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Pirates notebook: Clint Hurdle strives for 'John Wooden' approach

Chris Harlan
| Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, 8:27 p.m.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle takes notes in the dugout during a game against the Brewers at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle takes notes in the dugout during a game against the Brewers at PNC Park.

It wouldn't be hard for Clint Hurdle to find something to yell about.

But don't expect to see the manager berating players for mistakes or missed opportunities. Hurdle discussed candidly Tuesday, in the midst of a September slide, how an aggressive in-your-face approach doesn't fit his coaching philosophy.

Those angry moments would be “about me yelling, not about me coaching up,” Hurdle said, “not trying to grow somebody up. It's about me belittling somebody, and that's something I'm not a big fan of.”

Hurdle, in his seventh season with the Pirates, pointed out that only his interactions in the dugout are viewed publicly, so that doesn't show his demeanor in its entirety. But he explained how he strives to be more like legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden than Super Bowl-winning football coach Vince Lombardi, mentioning each by name.

“More often than not, the people that want the yelling, that's because it's something they're dealing with personally,” Hurdle said.

As a player, he recalled, the coaches who yelled could be tuned out.

Talking the loudest doesn't translate to caring more, he said, but that doesn't mean he avoids confrontation.

“I think the word confrontation can be taken in the wrong context,” he said. “Confrontation can be nothing but healthy. Confrontation can be empowering. Confrontation can be positive. You're sharing ideas. That's what confrontation is. Some people take it to the nth degree … and you're going to out-shout somebody.

“Sometimes sitting someone down … and telling them exactly how you feel means more than yelling.”

As an example, Hurdle talked about moments from Monday's 3-0 loss, when Gregory Polanco and Elias Dias made baserunning blunders that led to outs. The loss was the team's 11th in 12 games.

“Both of them showed very poor judgment last night because they both had plays in their pocket,” Hurdle said. “Before they hit, they knew what the situation was. One of them didn't trust the coach rounding third, and the other tried to make a play that at one point he thought was there but turned out not to be there.”

Diaz was thrown out at third with one out in the seventh inning. Polanco was tagged for the final out trying to stretch a single into a double.

Afterward, they talked.

“I sat them down (and asked) what did you see? What did you think? What did you feel?” Hurdle said. “We got the coach in here with them. We need to be better than that. We want to be a championship club. Can't do that. Those are mistakes that can't be made at this level.

“You have a conversation.”

Hurdle said he has talked at times with former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now MLB's chief baseball officer, about his even-keeled demeanor.

“I'd love to be like Joe or John (Wooden),” Hurdle said, “but I lose it every now and then. I do. I tell Joe, I try to be like you and five minutes into it I'm yelling and I'm screaming. I've done it.”

Dodging traffic

The Pirates turned to reliever A.J. Schugel with two on and no outs in Monday's sixth inning, a high-pressure role the right-hander has filled well.

Schugel threw one scoreless inning Monday and handled the jam flawlessly with a fielder's-choice grounder, a strikeout and a flyout. He's 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 29 appearances with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks.

“That's proven to be one of his strengths,” Hurdle said. “We've gone to him multiple times already this season. Actually, once he got back, he has been the first and foremost guy that we've gotten up when we had the lead, to be the guy that can come in and face right-handed and left-handed hitters.”

Starting seven

Only three MLB teams have used only seven starting pitchers this season: the Pirates, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants. That would tie the club record for fewest starters in a season with teams from 1902, '72 and '97. The Pirates used 14 starting pitchers last season.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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