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Winter Meetings interview with Clint Hurdle

MLB.com

Q. When you guys look ahead to 2018, what are some things you talked about that can possibly create some more offense, more runs for you?

CLINT HURDLE: First and foremost is our health. I said it all along, I said it from the end of the season through this point, it's getting the core group of men on the field with consistency. Outside of that, I think all players are continually looking to improve their game. I know throughout the season we had some conversations about truthfully launch angles, what goes into creating a better launch angle, a more consistent launch angle. You want to have guys that have bat-to-ball ability first and foremost. Pitch selection is still critical.

So we talked about a number of different things within the hitting mindset or the hitting c on which we can improve our core group that are there. But first and foremost it's getting Polanco on the field, Marte on the field, getting Cervelli on the field, keeping them on the field. And the guys that are in play, I know Freese had talked about doing some things. He's working on some things this off-season to try and find a little bit more air with the ball. I think the group mindset is definitely one of being tougher outs, getting on base more often but also with more damage.

Q. Is David showing a willingness to listen on the launch angle type of idea?

Q. When you guys look ahead to 2018, what are some things you talked about that can possibly create some more offense, more runs for you?

CLINT HURDLE: First and foremost is our health. I said it all along, I said it from the end of the season through this point, it's getting the core group of men on the field with consistency. Outside of that, I think all players are continually looking to improve their game. I know throughout the season we had some conversations about truthfully launch angles, what goes into creating a better launch angle, a more consistent launch angle. You want to have guys that have bat-to-ball ability first and foremost. Pitch selection is still critical.

So we talked about a number of different things within the hitting mindset or the hitting c on which we can improve our core group that are there. But first and foremost it's getting Polanco on the field, Marte on the field, getting Cervelli on the field, keeping them on the field. And the guys that are in play, I know Freese had talked about doing some things. He's working on some things this off-season to try and find a little bit more air with the ball. I think the group mindset is definitely one of being tougher outs, getting on base more often but also with more damage.

Q. Is David showing a willingness to listen on the launch angle type of idea?

CLINT HURDLE: I think overall David actually brought it to us. You have conversations, you don't want to force feed anybody, but it's been ongoing. Players watch TV, players listen to other players. Players watch for the players that have success. J.D. Martinez started talking about it a couple years ago. Then with the success that Chris Taylor had, it became public. The information gets out. We all are aware that OPS isn't on the ground. We had a lot of hard contact numbers on ground balls, we're trying to find different ways to accentuate that ball-striking ability because you're not talking about changing anything dramatically, you're talking about a quarter inch catching a ball in a different area. A line drive versus a ground ball versus a fly ball versus a well-struck long fly ball.

So guys are open-minded, they're looking for improvement, we're all trying to work a little bit harder, get a little bit better.

Q. When you have that hard contact on a ground ball, does that tell you that that player is squaring the ball up, has his timing right to the point where they can then start to think about launch angle, as opposed to trying to jump to launch angle before?

CLINT HURDLE: That's one of the things we do talk about. It's still flushing a baseball. It's covering the back side of the baseball, not so much looking for back spin any more, just staying behind the ball. And some guys are talking, it's what makes most sense to them. Some guys talk about hitting the ball further out front, which is a term you really didn't want to use 10 years ago. You didn't talk about hitting the ball way out front. But the mindset has changed.

What we're looking for as far as results, it's a feel and then, as I think then it tries to become a fundamental or a technique or a mechanic. But you want to make sure that you're having conversation with everybody about what they're feeling, what they're seeing, and we believe with the ability of our guys, their ball-striking ability, number one, to make those subtle adjustments that it shouldn't be anything that we're trying to recreate a swing or redo a swing.

Q. What were your conversations like with Polanco when it came forward to looking to next year and what he needs to do with he is on the field when he is healthy to find more consistency?

CLINT HURDLE: One of the more in-depth conversations we had in exit interviews going out the door, what were you feeling through 2016, what did you feel through 2017, what were the things that you valued, what were the things you feel that you know what, I might have to redo some things. And first and foremost it was trying to find a way it reclaim that athleticism that he had coming up. Whether his focus was on getting big or getting strong, the combination of the two we do believe took away from some athleticism. How that played out in the overall stretching, component of his flexibility, did it play into the injuries, did it leak into, did it lead to injuries?

Redefining though his strength and conditioning program first and foremost. Then adding to it baseball drills. Baseball reps again. And that's one thing we try and make sure we leave all our guys with, it's there is a process involved in acquiring strength and acquiring flexibility to get ready, but I think sometimes we're getting so caught up in a training mindset that we lose the playing mindset. So there needs to be a combination of the two.

From the reports we're getting, there's a lot of good things going on over there right now with Gregory, he seems to be confident in the work that's being done, he seems to feel he's headed in the right direction.

Q. You talked to Neil the last couple days, he's mentioned that it's possible some of the younger starters could open the season in the bullpen. If that shakes out, how might that play out as you go through spring and what type of versatility would that offer you?

CLINT HURDLE: We have had the same conversations. Very fortunate last year we had five guys carry the bulk, the volume of the work from starting rotation. We had two other guys come into play and get some starts in Brault and Glasnow. The other five major carriers carried, covered. And I do think that there comes a point you want to honor the volume of work, the men that performed for us last year, the five in the rotation, we all need to be open-minded about the growth of the younger pitchers moving forward. It used to be a staple of baseball when you had young pitchers, you put them in the bullpen, you give them the ball. Sometimes they get stretched out that way. They've all been stretched out. The season usually presents opportunities for guys of that nature to cover three innings here and there. To cover a four-inning outing sometimes. And you can continue to help their development.

I do believe there comes that point in time we talked with Glasnow last year, where it's time for him to figure some things out here. Brault went and dominated the season he had in Triple-A. How much good can come out of, well, he doesn't make the rotation here, the question is do you want him to continue to start, do you give him that bullpen opportunity, because there is growth opportunity there still. You're getting Big League hitters out, you're figuring things out, you're finding another way to help your club win.

So it very well could play out that way that we have got some guys in-house candidates to perform that multiple-inning relief job and carry that for us.

Q. Is that specifically something that could help with Tyler considering the struggles he had as a starter, then he goes down and was by all accounts put everything together in the minors and then came back, I think it was a brief snapshot at the end of the season?

CLINT HURDLE: I think it could, and it's also just another opportunity to - I use this analogy - to rearrange the furniture in the room. He's still going to go out with the mindset of pitching and getting outs and throwing his pitches, however, it's a different -- there's not every-fifth-day-starting mentality. You're going out, you need to prepare, you need to be ready. A phone call you're up, 10 minutes later you're in the game, versus the four days of preparation. Could that help him? It very well could. We'll see.

Q. How much with Tyler do you think that struggles have been related to confidence as opposed to physical repetition, that kind of stuff with him?

CLINT HURDLE: There's that fine line in confidence, execution, what hinders the execution, what makes the execution inconsistent. I don't think there's any doubt, nothing bodes confidence like success and there could be times, at least I can say in my career, that a lack of success can impede your confidence at times. I was fortunate enough that I would have some guys in my life that would say, hey, this is the most challenging level to play at. This isn't going to be all giggles all the time over here and high fives. There's a learning curve that you've got to figure out. You do well at the Major League level you don't go up, you stay there until you don't do well. And you figure out how to do well.

Again, Tyler's trying to push through that point of putting his foot down and performing consistently at the Major League level. That's where his focus is. So it could play in, but we want to continue to provide him with opportunities that he's earned in our mind.

Q. Given all the information in the game today, do you think the modern-day player understands the game better than in previous generations or do they just simply look at it and talk about it differently?

CLINT HURDLE: I believe they look at it differently, they talk about it differently. There's parts of the game that I played that are really unexplored territory in today's game. We never left the dugout. Had nowhere to go. We didn't have a video to go up and run to or you talk to the guys next to you on how he got pitched. We didn't have the number of scouting reports.

I do believe on the other side of it there can be an overload of information and players can gravitate to more information when, okay, I got this, this kind of information, that didn't work, so give me some different information. Hope they get really good at is gathering information. Finding the right information, making it practical, making it useful, making it work for you is a challenge for every player. Today's player has more opportunities to do that. We still try and revisit the scoreboard as a template, not a tablet, as a template. So it's a different landscape.

But I do think the players -- I've learned more. There's things that I'm learning now that we really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to back when I played that can give you a competitive edge, can make you look at things from a different lens, maybe to evaluate players better, evaluate your opposition better, to pick up on tendencies of your opposition better. So it's ever-changing.

Q. We talked a lot about third base the last few days, right now it sounds like it's going to be sort of a group of players, a mixture of players. For you what's the sort of ideal mix? Do you still see Freese as maybe being the number one there or would Sean have an opportunity to sort of take that role, would somebody like Frazier have a chance to try to earn that starting spot?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, those are conversations I prefer to have with may players first, than to cook it up on a hot stove and say here we go, and then hit them back with, well, what I meant to say was -- no, I'm not going to do that. I've never done that. You've obviously had conversations with Neil on the thoughts. We do have in-house, players, personnel, that can go man the position of third base. I'm still working through our best strongest team, our best strongest defensive team, our best strongest offensive team. How that plays out. Are we best served with keeping Sean and Frazier more involved in the infield play than any type of outfield play?

David man's third base very well defensively. He picked us up in a big way last year. I think that needs to be represented and kept in mind as well. It doesn't look like Bell's going to need a whole lot of support at first base other than if he becomes unavailable to play. If he becomes unavailable to play, then David can slide over almost seamlessly, and take on some of that volume of work. The versatility's going to work in all their favors. It's going to find them more ample playing time.

I'm looking forward it seeing Sean Rodriguez back to what he looks like after a full year of recovery, rehab, strengthening. The guy that we joined our ballclub last year, it's amazing that he was on our ballclub. It's amazing that he played. It was a pretty amazing season he had the year before. We believe that guy's got a better chance of showing up than the guy that was so much fortitude and courage to go out and play, he probably wasn't in the most competitive place for himself physically to go out and play and he went out and played.

Frazier, I look forward to him getting a whole full off-season of strengthening and conditioning to see what he can bring as well. So I haven't made any decisions in ink or in stone as of yet.

Q. What have the reports been like on Marte that you received so far?

CLINT HURDLE: Talked to Starling, got some reports on Starling, slow go to start with. I give all the credit to Nesbitt. He went down and viewed him, he caught fire, one of his last acts of duty.

Starling is, the most important thing for me is he's still working, he's still looking to get better, he'll still wanting to get reps, wanting to get at-bats, wanting to come back in the best shape and game form, realizes better than any what it cost himself and the team to miss 80, and then try and find his way back in. The reports have been very, very good, very, very positive.

Q. What do you remember from the year plus that you coached Gabe Kapler in Colorado and what stood out to you about him? Did you ever think that you were managing a guy that could be a future manager?

CLINT HURDLE: The beauty of what we do is there's a bunch of guys that somewhere along the line they ask about me, Did you ever think Hurdle would be a Major League manager? I don't think they ever gave it a thought. I didn't give a thought if he would be a manager. I was trying to help him become the best player that he could be. He had come off some time in Texas where he had some success. We were trying to get him in a position to be that successful player in Colorado. Work ethic, preparation, competitive nature in the game, always jumped out with an edge.

So I've stayed in touch with Gabe over the years. I'm not surprised that he's had a trajectory within the game. He's forward thinker, he's a creative thinker, we have shared some thoughts and some funnies this off-season as he worked through the process, and as I tell many of these young men that get the first opportunity, welcome to the First Guesser's Club. I'm proud of him and happy for him.

Q. 2017 right from the giddy up when Jung-ho turned the ignition to that car, it was a year you guys just kept taking hits or at the end of the day, Taillon, right through the end of the year. Was this one of your most challenging seasons as a manager and then what do you take from this season and what do you just flush and just say I'm going to forget about that from 2017?

CLINT HURDLE: Good question. Very good question. The flush part of it, I was asked earlier, on the MLB Network and my response was, I understand what you mean by "flush", I still think you learn things you just don't maybe take put a lot of weight to them because the flush part of it, they're real. We had to work through them together. We would like to not have to work through any of those situations again. Some of them are in our control to not work through again. The ones that are out of our control I think you understand that and say, okay, that's a byproduct of life, that's a byproduct of the game, what did we do well through that process, how did we strengthen, how did we overcome, how did we help and support.

There are some things that at the end of the day that challenge individuals and a team and a clubhouse that you didn't have walking in the door. It's game of emotion, it's better when it's played with emotion than played emotionally. I think lessons can be learned along those lines for everybody. I do believe that there was a lot of opportunity for us to be tougher mentally, to be tougher physically moving forward. Based on what we went through together as a club.

Q. You obviously know McCutchen's personality better than anyone. When you moved him back to centerfield, did you sense he had an extra motivation to sort of prove wrong the metrics and the voices from outside your organization that maybe he was done as a centerfielder, and how do you think he played overall there?

CLINT HURDLE: I believe there's some truth in there. We all process negative information or negative feedback in different ways, some use it as motivation, some people get their feelings hurt. Some people feel sorry for themselves. Andrew's never felt sorry for himself. I think he's used any type of information that he's not something to his benefit.

But when we first started the conversations about the outfield deployment at that and how we were going to move, he was looking for one more shot, he said, I learned some things, some things I can do better. So in his mind he was never not a centerfielder. He was going to go play right field because it was in the best interests of the ballclub. When I went to him in St. Louis and asked him about how we're going to reshuffle, I told him if you want to stay in right field you can stay in right field. You've put your heart and soul into it. You've committed to it. I'm good. I'm honoring your -- you've taken one for the team, you've done this for the team. We hit him second. We moved him to right. How do you feel you're best served moving forward? Keep the team in mind. Keep yourself in mind. And he got back to me about three hours later. He said, I'll go back to centerfield.

And I do think there were things he felt he could improve on to become better. To use those opportunities where some things got pointed out to him that he wasn't doing that well from an industry standard from an analytics standard that he could improve on and he did. I was very proud of him of how he responded to the challenge.

Q. I'm not asking about your plans in general but do you still feel he can play centerfield for another year or two or a time period in the Major Leagues?

CLINT HURDLE: I do. And I as Neil and I have talked, our best outfield alignment moving forward in the next year will be Andrew in center, Polanco in right and Marte in left.

Q. Francisco Cervelli has since 2016 he's missed almost half the time, a long list of injuries. Not saying you can predict injuries but if necessary, are you comfortable with the Elias as an everyday catcher both offensively and defensively?

CLINT HURDLE: That's a great question. I was asking it in the room the other day, some of our in-house staff that hasn't got to see him, but looks at the analytics and I said yes, I believe he can be an everyday catcher. I believe that the bat's going to play. One of the things that gave me encouragement this year was the challenge of stepping in for Cervelli, when Cervelli was unplugged and down, and our commitment to him at the time. It was his time, he needed to be the next guy up. The opportunity of the game, the volume of games in front of him, the opportunity to work with the entire staff, the rotation as well as the bullpen, multiple looks, multiple catches, facing tough lineups, facing good ballclubs, the best competition that he ever had been a part of. And I thought he continued to get better each and every game each and every week. The street cred of catching three shutouts. The ability to throw some runners out. A little different dynamic to our CRG control the running game portion of it.

The bat part of him, which has been one of his blessings, was hard. They actually pitched him and they went after him. I think he learned some things offensively but he never let his bat leak into his glove. And the relationship development he was able to build with our entire staff, from Nova to Rivero, with everybody in between, could be invaluable moving forward for him as well. So I do have a lot of confidence. I have every confidence in him being able to be a guy, if need be, to be an everyday Big League catcher.

Q. If memory serves, the defense had a little trouble getting traction in April, and then kind of improved the rest of the way out. Is there anything you guys are able to do in spring to have that start a little more crisp?

CLINT HURDLE: We evaluate starts every offseason in different areas. And then what do you is you break down the errors - were they off the mound, in the infield, were they throwing or were they outfield. We had the deployment of three outfielders in three different spots, and they only played six games together, I think, in the Spring Training season. It's easy to say, well, they're all outfielders. Just send them out there they play, they should be able to figure it out. We didn't know Marte was in a different spot the first two weeks of the season possibly mentally because some things happened out there that was you don't know. We are talking about, as we have done in the past, the heightened, the level of challenge that comes with drill works, add speed to the drill work, add live baserunners to all the defensive drill work. Incorporate time sequences in the infield they have got to make a play and get it off in 4.2 or less seconds because Billy Hamilton's running.

So there's different ideas, Cora's got another handful of a few ideas. We got some defensive things. Bartee started to use last year and through attrition wasn't able to do it. Marte left, Polanco got hurt. McCutchen's the only outfielder. So yes, we're continually trying to look for new ways to challenge our guys because baseball's the one game that's very rarely practiced at game speed. It's the first place you can go and you should go when you look at developing skills and increasing better habits and game-time decisions.

Q. When you had your conversation with Andrew at the end of the season, did you get the sense that a better start offensively was something that he maybe entered the off-season with some motivation for to prove?

CLINT HURDLE: I think it would be kind of like hitting the first grand slam, I don't think he's got to prove it, I just think he wants to do it. And he talked about, yeah, the things he learned during this season. The challenges in the first two and a half months, the three months in between, how it all played out. What his mindset was, what he was feeling in his approach going in, and I think the comments were along the lines -- I was always looking for a feel in Spring Training. I've got the feel. I've got the program now, I just need to go in plug it in, get my reps and get ready to go. I think that was the conversation that we had at the end of the season. And again, I'll be looking forward to seeing what comes.

And that's what Spring Training -- because we have had good springs as a team and individually, but once Opening Day starts, where he's able to take it through April see what April brings us.

Q. Neil has talked about looking for a fourth outfielder this after season. Considering you had stretches last year where you had one bona fide Major League full-time outfielder on your active roster, how important do you rate finding an outfielder somewhere anywhere outside the organization?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, we're connected in our thoughts about what we want to do. It's identifying guys that can man the position. If they're external, do we have internal options. It goes back to my earlier comment, where's our emphasis going to be for a guy like Rodriguez or Frazier? Metrically Frazier showed up pretty well. I think your eye test would tell you that you know what, that one kind of catches you off guard when you go back and you think about it. Rodriguez looks like an outfielder when he's in the outfield. He had three or four games we ran him out back out to centerfield. It's not any stretch to think that he could play some outfield.

To have an outfielder, though, a guy that's got the experience to move around out there, I definitely think it's something that we're having very meaningful dialogue about.

Q. Are you not looking forward to seeing Ozuna a few more times a year?

CLINT HURDLE: Timing is so great. I got the news when I was on the on-deck circle for MLB Network. He's a good player. Had a big season. Again, though for us, and one of the I think the best lessons I've learned on the field, off the field and I share it with our players and I'll share it in Spring Training, it's very dangerous to compare. In any facets of life because two things can happen: Your pride gets in the way because your britches get big because you think you're better than somebody, or your feelings get hurt and you feel sorry for yourself.

Our focus needs to continues to be upon ourselves, getting us better, teams are going to add, teams are going to subtract. How can we be the best team we're going to be. I know it's a might sound like a pat answer but it works when you do it. And it's what we need to do more than anything else.

Q. Some of your focus is leadership and development these younger guys that got so much experience this year, are you pleased with how they have come along not on the field but off the field, the type of season you guys had, what that can do for a young player in terms of that kind of personal leadership development?

CLINT HURDLE: We had many opportunities for most of our roster at one time to go away and hide or isolate within the clubhouse. Our men not only continued to stand up and fight with each other for each other. The Pirate Charities Program continues to be one of the most aggressive positive programs I've ever been apart of, we have got individuals stepping up all over the place getting more involved every year in the community. I watched men have girlfriends that have turned to wives, and I watched those relationships grow and flourish and turn into families with children, and I watched them go out in the communities and establish foundations to help other people's children. It's impactful. They all have realized, too, through acts of service you really get out of yourself, when it's easy in this game to fall into that trap, and I think that I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the work that they're doing off the field.

There's one comment I share every spring that some of them cringe, but I remind them they're going to be ex-players much longer than they're going to be players. And you have an opportunity to build a foundation now as a player in the community within your own home first, and impact other people. And our guys took positive steps all over the place but to boil it down, to look at that young starting pitching with the exception of the elder statesman Nova, Cole, Taillon, to watch that growth throughout the season that's special. I've been in the game over 40 years and I don't know if I've seen three pitchers with two or less years Major League experience take the ball, do the things with the ball that those three guys did. And then have you Cole to do his thing, you have Nova do his thing, there's a reason I'm smiling a lot of times when other people aren't.

Q. What did Josh Bell's Rookie of the Year nod sort of mean to you as an organization and what do you kind of see his off-season work as being is it more kind of seeing if he can really tighten up the defensive work is it seeing how high his ceiling can go on the offensive side, what are you sort of hearing from him?

CLINT HURDLE: One of the more interesting players I've ever come across, very reflective with a different optic and a different lens than a lot of players I've ever had. We spent probably 30 minutes in conversation and a minute and a half of it was on his offense and he was the one he said here's what I got on my offense I did some good things I expect a lot out ever myself, I'm going to get things done more consistent fashion. Then he talked about his defensive work improving his arm angle what he learned about hitting in the lineup. Things that he's going to improve upon as a teammate. Just off the charts as far as awareness of his game, not just locked in. I'm hitting cleanup, I need to drive in this X number, I need to hit X number of home runs, I need to have better at-bats.

The grit to the kid and his focus, his ability to have a short memory for a rookie was very encouraging last year. We jumped two, three times a week, I said, you're getting close. You take that swing with no feet on the ground. You're coming out. You're getting a day off because he's the one guy that's taking a swing without having either foot on the ground, and then the next swing, barrel the ball 450 feet.

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