05/14/12 7:26 PM ET
Bucs arrive early to learn Marlins Park nuances
By David Villavicencio / Special to MLB.com
Clint Hurdle had his team on the field early Monday afternoon to work on defense and get accustomed to the new park. After years of facing the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium, Hurdle felt it was important to get Pirates players accustomed to the new playing field.
"That's one of the challenges that comes with all these new parks," Hurdle said. "You try to get here early and try to get yourself acquainted. It's a short test. Just 48 hours. Two games and you go. There is no safety net, and you just want to be as prepared as you can be."
That preparation included infield and outfield drills, as well as pitchers' fielding practice and some team defensive work.
"We were out early today for half an hour getting our defensive work in and acquainting our players with the field," Hurdle said. "We've never been here and our pitchers have never been on the mound, so we took advantage of the time we had to get everybody out there. I feel we're prepared and it will be fun to play here."
Hurdle noted that Marlins Park will present some interesting defensive challenges for his club. "The infield is very quick and the outfield is very big," Hurdle said. "There are some nuances to the outfield like that notch just left of center field."
The notch is caused by the Marlins Park home run sculpture in left-center field. That is an area that speedy players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley could take advantage of and turn doubles into triples.
But Hurdle also sees the expansive outfield as a way for the home team to take advantage of an inexperienced team that is still learning how to defend at Marlins Park.
"We will probably have to play our outfielders just a little bit deeper because of the ground behind them," Hurdle said. "You definitely will have to be aggressive and charge balls in front. This is their home park and they're checking depths and looking for opportunities to move up bases on balls hit. We've got to be sharp with that."
Hurdle likes stacked top of Pirates' order
MIAMI -- The Pirates' offense is not performing the way Clint Hurdle would like it.
The manager is not pleased with the fact that his team has a .222 batting average -- second worst in the National League. The Bucs' 97 runs scored are the lowest in the Majors, and Hurdle is looking for ways to improve his team's offensive production.
"We've just got to find a way to be more consistent on offense," Hurdle said. "We are pitching our backsides off and playing solid defense. It's time for the offense to go out there and make a move forward."
Hurdle has moved Neil Walker ahead of Andrew McCutchen and dropped Alex Presley down in the order with the hope that stacking the top of the order will lead to more consistent offensive production.
"That's why we have Walker back in the two spot," Hurdle said. "We've had some success with Neil up there. We'll drop Presley down, and maybe that will take a load off him and he can just swing the bat and not worry about anything other than seeing the ball and putting the barrel on it."
Hurdle has hit Walker fourth or fifth for most of the year to provide protection for McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, but he has decided the Pirates would benefit more from having Walker's talents in front of their best and most powerful hitter.
"I just like Walker in front rather than behind Pedro," Hurdle said. "We talk a lot about protection in the lineup, but what I've seen in the game the last five years is that pitchers go at hitters the way they go. Yes, there is some discussion about maybe the guy behind would be better, but there are only a handful of guys in this game that get pitched around. There are 30 teams, and there might be five guys that you actually say, 'No. Four wide. Let's just go.'
"You saw it yesterday [against the Astros] in a situation where a left-hander was brought in to face Pedro. One swing of the bat can win the game, and I've got a pitcher that's going to hit next, regardless of who it is and they went at Pedro. They were able to put him out, but that's a gamble that I'm not sure I would've taken in our dugout. I'm not second-guessing their manager, because it worked out, but I just don't see much of that, so I'm going to leave Walker up top, followed by 'Cutch, followed by Alvarez."
Another wrinkle Hurdle threw into Monday's lineup included Casey McGehee playing first base instead of Garrett Jones. The Pirates faced a right-hander in Anibal Sanchez, which would suggest that the left-handed-hitting Jones would typically get the start, but Hurdle went with a gut feeling and started the right-handed-hitting McGehee instead.
"We've got a bunch of guys we're trying to help find their way back," Hurdle said. "It's a short sample size. They've both seen Sanchez once. It's a faster infield. It's just my gut tonight to give Casey the start. We've got Jones available for whatever the game may bring us."
Whether the move to start McGehee over Jones works or not, Hurdle knows that it will be important to get both players hitting soon.
"Casey and Jones both can add to this offense," Hurdle said. "I've got to find a way to get them reignited. They're both kind of in the same place. They both had better years two years ago and both had off years last year. They've both shown signs this year, but they've also been inconsistent."
Pirates impressed by new Miami park
MIAMI -- Most Pirates remember the Marlins' old home as a difficult and uncomfortable place to play. Chris Resop remembers it as his first big league home.
The right-hander broke into the Majors with the Marlins and called Sun Life Stadium home for parts of two seasons. But Resop does not miss the old stadium much after getting his first look at Marlins Park.
"It's a nice stadium," Resop said. "Any time you come into something new, it's cool. Walking around and trying to find where things are has been interesting. It's a nice park. I know these guys are real proud of what they've done. I'm sure the players are real excited to have a new stadium."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is also very impressed with the newest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
"It's much improved over the football field we were playing in," Hurdle said. "From what I understand, the fans have been here and it's been electric. They've already saved a handful of games from the weather with roof coverage."
After years of dealing with heat, humidity, rain and poor lighting, Andrew McCutchen is looking forward to the improved playing conditions at Marlins Park. "You forget about how hot it is here sometimes, so it's good to be here in the new stadium," McCutchen said. "Hopefully they keep the roof closed. It will be good to play in a stadium with better lighting than the last stadium, too."
In addition to improved playing conditions, Resop believes Marlins Park will provide a better atmosphere, and that is something both teams can benefit from.
"This is a baseball stadium," Resop said. "First and foremost, when you walked into the old stadium, you knew it was a football stadium. If you had 25,000 people, there it looked like you had 5,000. It's a place that seats 80,000 people, and you can't even put a dent in that."
"You come here and you can tell it's a baseball field," Resop said. "It's shaped like a baseball field and there aren't any retractable seats moving around to try and make it ready for baseball like at the old place. This is definitely a real nice park. The only unfortunate part is we're only here for two days."
Pirates prospect Justin Wilson left Monday's game prior to the fourth inning after feeling some tightness in his right groin. The left-hander was removed as a precautionary measure and will be reevaluated on Tuesday.
The Pirates dropped all six games against the Marlins in 2011. They have lost eight consecutive games and dropped 12 of their last 14 meetings against the Marlins heading into Monday night's game.
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.