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Hurdle reaches out to overworked bullpen

| Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, 7:32 p.m.
Christopher Horner
The Pirates are trying to retain the services of right-handed reliever Jason Grilli, who is seeking a two-year deal. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton says his recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery is going well. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The bullpen has gone through a rough stretch, individually and collectively, over the past few days. So, manager Clint Hurdle made it a point over the weekend to touch base with his relievers in both subtle and straightforward ways.

Before the game Saturday, Hurdle hung out at the clubhouse TV with Joel Hanrahan and Chad Qualls. He chit-chatted with Chris Resop and Jared Hughes. After the game, he gave a pep talk to Jason Grilli in the tunnel leading out of the dugout.

“You've got to develop relationships that are transparent and trusting because you need accurate information,” Hurdle said. “When it's all mechanical, your relationship becomes mechanical. It's part of managing people. They all matter out there.”

The bullpen was shuffled Sunday when Juan Cruz came off the disabled list and Jared Hughes was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Although he had struggled lately, Hughes essentially got caught in a numbers crunch — somebody had to go. “It's numbers, not performance,” Hurdle said.

Hughes tossed 2 13 scoreless innings Saturday but gave up five earned runs in 1 23 innings over his previous two outings. “I made the adjustments I needed to and pitched well,” Hughes said. “I made the adjustments to where I think I can just continue doing that for the next few weeks, go down there, stay positive and earn another call-up. There's no sense in getting upset.”

• Attendance on Sunday was 35,352. The weekend total of 113,539 is the second highest for a three-game series at PNC Park. Atop the list is the June 24-26, 2011, series against the Boston Red Sox, which drew 118,324.

• Right-hander Charlie Morton expects to throw off a mound Oct. 4, which is the 16-week mark from when he had reconstructive elbow surgery. At the same time, Morton is trying to stay even-keel about his recovery. “I want to treat it like a professional and not get crazy about it,” Morton said. Morton has been working out at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and spent this past weekend in Pittsburgh to touch base with his teammates and add some variety to his routine. “It's going very well,” Morton said.

• GM Neal Huntington admitted right-hander James McDonald “took his foot off the gas” when he blew a six-run lead Friday against the Padres. But Huntington said there are no plans to take McDonald out of the starting rotation. “We see J-Mac as a very good starting pitcher for us for years to come,” Huntington said.

— Rob Biertempfel

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