Hurdle has a need for Bucs to display speed
Pittsburgh manager wants his club to steal more bases in 2012
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Lumber Company, department of baseball, is a thing of the long-ago past. The Pirates of the 1970s took opponents behind the woodshed, but those days of wearing out pitchers are gone.Clint Hurdle wants to introduce you to the upgrade: The Slash-and-Dash Club. The Bucs' skipper is confident he still has some logs on the fire, but is designing the team's attack around the one offensive component that never slumps: speed. "The speed's gotta show up every day," said Hurdle, who has been pressing that message daily in camp. "We're going to take some chances. So, yes, we're going to get caught. I understand they don't want to give up outs, but we need to get after it." They'll all go after Alex Presley, the leadoff batter who will also be counted on to lead off the races. Presley is a smart baserunner who appeared to make a quick study of National League pitchers upon his midseason promotion last year, and Hurdle now wants him to lose his inhibition.
"He's not going to get on us if we get thrown out," Presley said of his manager. "We'll have a lot of freedom to play aggressively. It's a fun way to play when the manager says, 'Go out and make something happen.'""Speed can keep you out of a slump," Hurdle said. "We continue to talk about legging balls out, taking the extra base, beating out the back end of double plays. Stealing bases. We call them 'Free 90s.'" Hurdle plans to free up his guys to load up on those Free 90s. The basepaths will be a green-light district, "even for [Rod] Barajas," Hurdle said in jest, citing the beefy catcher who has two steals in 1,010 career games. "I think guys now have a better understanding," Hurdle said. "When they have the green light, we won't put them against the wall and ask 30 questions about why they got thrown out. With the green light, it's on me. The trust has picked up. We want to continue pushing the envelope, but be smart with it. "Guys I played with -- people like Vince Coleman and Willie Wilson -- liked to have the green light. The players on the field have a feel for the game that I don't have in the dugout." Speed would enhance the Pirates' offense, not define it. The manager is confident that it can be ideally balanced. If he wanted to expand the team wardrobe from the "Finish" and "Grit Happens" numbers, Hurdle might add some "130-130" T-shirts. The Bucs have not had as many of both home runs and stolen bases since 1990, when they hit 138 homers and stole 137 bases on the way to the first of three consecutive division titles. On their own, both totals are modest; combine them and sparks fly. "The speed's got to show up, but I do think there is more power than we showed last year," Hurdle said. "Power that we didn't tap into -- Pedro [Alvarez], [Andrew] McCutchen hit some homers , but there's more there, not a doubt in my mind. "[Neil] Walker is in play. And we added [Casey] McGehee and Barajas and [Clint] Barmes. Every once in a while, they'll surprise you." Stolen bases obviously exploit the element of surprise. Once a team's running tendencies are established and respected, the threat itself becomes a weapon. This isn't a game plan that came suddenly to Hurdle one morning in Spring Training; he preached it entering the offseason and devoted most of the Pirates' minicamp in January to it. "Alex spent a good amount of time that week working on taking leads and making breaks," Hurdle said. "In the big leagues, you can get overly concerned about making an out. It's fair to say Presley was a little hesitant. Where our offense was at the time, it was tough to give up outs when we were on base." On the subject of whether he was reluctant to run last season when the offense bogged down, Presley said, "Maybe a little bit. But on the other side, you can press the issue and make something happen. "There's a fine line of what to do. It depends on who's hitting; if McCutchen is at the plate, you want to let him swing. So you have to pick your spots." Specifically, Hurdle wants Pirates baserunners to go more often for the "second" Free 90 -- third base. As a team, the Bucs attempted 15 steals of third last season yet were quite successful, making it 13 times (87 percent). "When you run, even if you get thrown out, you're gaining experience," Hurdle said. "Get a bigger lead, maximize the lead, get a good secondary lead -- we want all of them to work on that stuff. Everyone can become a better baserunner, and that makes your offense better."
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.