Hurdle's focus this spring: Situational hitting

Hurdle's focus this spring: Situational hitting

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle's Spring Trainings come with bull's-eyes. And his Pirates usually hit them.

"The focal point last year was controlling the running game," Hurdle reminded.

Check. With considerable help from new catcher Russell Martin, the Bucs went from being the Majors' worst in 2012 in thwarting runners (who were successful on 154 of 173 steal attempts) to being one of the best in 2013 (Pittsburgh nabbed 43 of 138 thieves).

"And the year before, it was pitching inside," Hurdle added. "This time, it's the offense: We'll coach up these guys to be more consistent. Connecting the dots better offensively is at the top of our list, focusing on the fundamental part of the offensive game, the importance of that at-bat."

Shorthand for that: Situational hitting. Hurdle couldn't have been thinking of the time the '13 Bucs went six weeks between sacrifice flies, could he? Overall, the Pirates had 29 of those, and of the 30 Major League teams, only the Marlins (26) had fewer.

Whereas Miami lost 100 games, Pittsburgh won 94. But the Pirates' scoring average of 3.91 runs per game was by far the lowest of MLB's 10 playoff teams, and Hurdle reasoned, it did catch up to them in the National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

"In the playoffs, you will always face premium pitching," the manager said, "and you have to get to be better at turning over the lineup."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.