9/2/2013 2:29 P.M. ET
Hurdle has mind on NL Central title, not Wild Card
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Major League Baseball's double-Wild-Card-playoff format is in only its second year. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has already seen enough.
Last October, in the single-game first round under the new arrangement, he saw the Rangers and Braves go down after 93- and 94-win seasons, respectively.
"Our vision is to win the division," said Hurdle, whose team entered Labor Day action sharing the National League Central lead with St. Louis. "I watched two teams crushed with a one-game Wild Card game. You put in 162 days of hard work, get to play one game, and if you don't play a good game that day, you go to the house.
"That's a hard pill to swallow. A division win gives you more opportunity to show what you've done throughout the season. We are committed to doing some big things, and we feel we are capable of doing them."
Given that commitment, Hurdle has been understandably tactful about answering the growing questions about the Bucs being on the verge of ending a streak of 20-consecutive losing seasons.
"Our goal isn't to just be better than last year [when the Pirates finished 79-83]. Some guys have been here a week," Hurdle said, "some guys have been here a couple of years. This is my third. We haven't been here 20 years. We honor the angst, but we don't want to carry that baggage around."
Pirates on verge of reversing trends against Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- People tend to wax poetic about baseball. Maybe that is because there is a lot of poetic justice in the sport.
The Brewers, particularly in Milwaukee, were the biggest abusers of the Pirates during the leanest of the lean times. Now, they might be the victims, and the witnesses, to the confirmation of these Pirates' rebirth.
Monday's 5-2 win against the Brewers was No. 80, placing the Bucs on the verge of an 81st win that would eliminate any chances of a 21st consecutive losing season and within two games of an 82nd that would guarantee a winner.
What better place than here?
Beginning in 2007 and through last season, the Pirates lost 44 of 51 games in Miller Park, often in embarrasing fashion. Monday's win was the Bucs' fourth in seven games in Milwaukee this season, thus continuing to check off two items on manager Clint Hurdle's incoming to-do list: Win on the road, and against the Brewers.
"It's significant, because they're on the list. There were some really hard things, trends to look at when I came in, and [general manager Neal Huntington] and I talked about them," Hurdle said minutes after the Pirates also regained sole possession of first place in the National League Central. "Things we just had to improve. Road play was the biggest [the Pirates had won a total of 17 road games in 2010].
"And Milwaukee was kicking us around. We've fared better against them."
More poetic justice: In 2005, the Brewers, themselves, ended a long streak of 12 losing seasons. Win No. 81 came in Pittsburgh.
Gomez earns increased role with help from Pimentel
MILWAUKEE -- Mark Melancon has continued Jason Grilli's exceptional work in the closer's role. However, as the Pirates feared when Grilli was injured and Melancon had to vacate his setup duties, the impact on the eighth inning has been greater.
Looking to find some help for rookies Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson, who inherited a lot of the extra load, manager Clint Hurdle thinks he may have found it in Jeanmar Gomez. The presence of Stolmy Pimentel, promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis, frees Gomez for heavier lifting.
The underrated hero of the bullpen, Gomez has excelled in a variety of roles, from starting to short, long or middle relief. In 27 games, he is 3-0 with a 3.11 ERA, and even that is misleading, since five of the 25 earned runs he has allowed came in a bad one-third of an inning against St. Louis.
"I plan to get him a more meaningful role in the back of the bullpen. He has shown the ability to pitch all over the place," said Hurdle, curious about whether Pimentel can handle Gomez's role.
The 23-year-old Dominican righty, who came from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan deal, has pitched in relief in only five of his 152 Minor League games, none the last two years. In 27 starts this season between Double-A and Triple-A, Pimentel went 6-9 with a 3.35 ERA.
Asked whether he was confident Pimentel could pitch relief, Hurdle said, "No. He's going to have to, though."
"I think he can," Hurdle added. "Guy like that, you just have to make sure he gets [to start an] inning, and ample time to warm up."
• Jason Grilli started for Double-A Altoona with another one-hit shutout inning Monday, this time striking out the side, and is on target to join Indianapolis in Durham and pitch a relief inning in Wednesday's International League playoff game.
Hurdle would not commit to whether Grilli will reclaim the closer's job when he returns.
"We'll talk about that when he gets back. There are a lot of different discussions right now, as I continue to communicate with [pitching coach Ray Searage]," the manager said.
• Wandy Rodriguez will also be Indianapolis-bound after throwing a bullpen session scheduled for Tuesday in Milwaukee. The lefty is due to go three innings or throw 50 pitches Friday for the Indians.
• Starling Marte (right hand contusion) is also making progress and the hope is he will be able to resume swinging two-handed before the club leaves Milwaukee following Wednesday's game.
177: Pirates home runs on the road since the start of the 2012 season, the most in the Majors. The Bucs began a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday in Milwaukee.
"Yeah. It's real. It was real in April and May and June … but, yes, you do feel a sense of heightened awareness. You go to another level, layer."
-- Hurdle, on players' natural reactions when they are in a pennant race and the calendar flips from August to September
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.