Hurdle:: Hello, everyone, I'm here and ready to answer some questions from our great fan base! Let's get started...
mschauer: After a forgetful year for Charlie Morton in 2010 he has made a name for himself across the league in 2011. To what do you attribute his recent success?
Hurdle:: First and foremost Charlie was able to self evaluate the 2010 season - the areas that he could control. The connection that he's made with Ray has provided him with a mentor that can challenge him and push him forward. He wanted to develop some consistency, and studying a lot of pitchers, hand-picked Roy Halladay to hopefully emulate. His sinking fastball has become his bread-and-butter pitch. The challenge that he's working on now is to negate the left- handed bats in the lineup. The split-change, the 4-seam fastball and the breaking ball thrown either backdoor or back-foot are all becoming effective weapons for facing left handed hitters.
jonpone: Last night was a great example of not quitting. How do you keep them going when they are losing in late innings?
Hurdle:: #1 - Good teams don't quit. #2 - Quitting is not acceptable here. #3 - We owe it to our fan base to play a hard nine innings for 27 outs as long as it takes -- whether it is 9,000 fans or 30,000 fans. There has to be a certain honor you feel when you put on our uniform that says "Pirates" on it. In the true spirit of being a Pirate, how could you ever quit?
18nalax: Congrats on the early success, Coach. I was wondering about the right field situation. Will it continue to be a platoon situation, somebody become the everyday RF, or will we see Alex Presley come up from Indianapolis?
Hurdle:: We put a lot of thought into the situation over the winter. We felt confident that Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones would give us higher than average bats in right field. It hasn't played out that way so far. Xavier Paul has gotten into the mix and has provided a spark and is playing great defense. I do believe better days are ahead for Jones and Diaz. We've talked at length about Alex Presley and we really like the job he's done in AAA to date. The spring wasn't kind to him. He's been able to go down and improve his game. With that being said, there is a lot of baseball left and it wouldn't surprise me to see Alex back here at some point this year. Basically put, the hot guy plays.
buccos3108: With the recent call up of Tony Watson, will he only be used in specific situations (i.e. vs. lefties)?
Hurdle:: He will not be used only in left-left situations. He has a three pitch mix that gives him a bridge to get through right-handed hitters. The fastball, change and sliders were all put to effective use in AAA. The splits were under .200 for both right and left-handed hitters. We are happy for him and proud of him, and are glad he is here now to help us out this season.
jonpone: Did you hear the Pirates fans yell over the Phillies fans when they tried to chant, "Let's Go Phillies" at PNC Park?
Hurdle:: Absolutely! I think our fans were very representative of protecting our house. We look forward to the days when we have as many Pirates fans in Philadelphia as there were Phillies fans in Pittsburgh.
axolotl: Have you noticed any palpable changes in the personality and overall mood of the team since you first took over? If so, what have you seen?
Hurdle:: I've seen growing confidence. I think our team was able to honestly self-evaluate the hard lessons learned from last season. We were looking forward to a clean start and we've all had adversity in life and you can learn from it. Usually it is the best learning curve and I believe our players learned a lot from last season. They've been able to put that into play and make the adjustments for this season. They now have trust in each other. Trust up and down the lineup, trust in the rotation and trust in the bullpen. And most importantly, they are also having fun.
Dantz: Mr. Hurdle, first of all thanks for all your hard work in getting this club to play more consistently, and with more passion. That's been missing for a long time. That said, what long term plans do you have for Xavier Paul and his expanding role on this team?
Hurdle:: One of the things that is unique about baseball is a lot of focus in put on long-term vision. We are looking at short-term and trying to take care of business today. Everyone's actions speak louder than their words and X has gained a lot of confidence here. He's been a welcome addition to this club and it is up to him how he moves forward with playing time.
jbs17387: I know the season is young, but at this point, what is the most pleasant surprise for you?
Hurdle:: The quality of work that has been done by our starting rotation.
spd12982: What area needs the most improvement at this point in the season?
Hurdle:: Consistency on offense. Especially our two-strike approach.
jm_bucsfan: Any clue why the team is playing so well on the road this year? It's been fun to watch, and if they could do the same at home, we could have a great summer of baseball.
Hurdle:: It was a focus point over the winter and in Spring Training. Pain brings immediate attention to a specific area. The road record was painful. We changed the structure of the days as far as work, an up in awareness time, changed workout routines, and at the end of the day it really helps that we are just playing better. We are pitching well and have had some timely hitting. But as I said, we changed the structure of team and individual road routines.
jm_bucsfan: How much do you love Pittsburgh now that you're here for real?
Hurdle:: My family and I are humbled by the way we've been embraced by the community. The city fits us like a good pair of jeans. We are a blue collar family with a strong work ethic and commitment to one another. We have a "dig it out of the dirt" mentality. We are everything this city stands for since I made my first trip here in 1981. There is a hard-nosed mentality here that's noticeable, but everyone here is soft where it counts -- in the heart. We love it.
bucs6079: Is Andrew McCutchen's recent surge due to a changed approach at the plate?
Hurdle:: It's not so much a change of approach at the plate, more so a redefined focus of what he wants to accomplish in the batter's box. He is becoming more consistent with driving the ball to the big part of the field. Not being pull-sided only.
cw2124: Were there any players just drafted that really excited you and you cannot wait to help them succeed in MLB?
Hurdle:: We're excited about all our picks. Obviously the top two have a chance to be impactful -- Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell. We are proud of the job our amateur scouting department has done, led by Greg Smith. He said they were confident and had conviction in their ability to go get and sign players, and have been as good as anybody's scouting department the last four years. We are thankful that Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly have been so supportive and engaging in the financial responsibilities that come with signing these players. We've spent more than anyone in the Draft in the last three years. Kids know when Pirates scouts are present now, and that we're for real.
RobertoClemente21: With this great group of young players and how well we are doing compared to previous years, do you expect any big-time trades or will trades be minimal?
Hurdle:: Neal Huntington and his staff, and we're in conversation regularly, are looking everyday to improve our ballclub. There is so much talk that doesn't get traction but deserves attention. We want to make sure we're right on our players. Neal and his staff have done a very good job over the years of acquiring talent, developing talent through our player development program and their attention to detail and creative thinking have been very embracing for me to work with on a daily basis.
Hurdle:: One more question today...
papatopher: Brandon Wood gets a lot of criticism due to his lack of offensive production. How are you working with him to address his problems?
Hurdle:: We are trying to help Brandon eliminate a hand hitch that has become more dynamic over time. He came to the big leagues with a small hitch, but as he's been here it has gotten larger. We are trying to soften it up and shorten his path to the ball.
Hurdle:: One more, actually...
william011: Mr. Hurdle, how do you feel about batting the pitcher in the 8th spot? William, Beaver Falls.
Hurdle:: Not a fan of it!
Hurdle:: Thanks again for all those who presented questions. Sorry for the ones I wasn't able to get to. Just to finish, our commitment has not changed, our team's focus is to re-bond this city behind its baseball team, and we will not rest until that is accomplished.