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Pirates notebook: Hall of Famer Larkin says more success will help Pirates change perception

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bats against the Blue Jays on Sunday, May 4, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, May 10, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
 

Shortly after Clint Hurdle was named Pirates manager in November 2010, Barry Larkin asked Hurdle why he took the job.

“He told me, ‘I took it because things are changing. It's going to be good,' “ Larkin recalled. “I know Clint, and I know he tends to be the eternal optimist, but I didn't see it.”

Larkin, a Hall of Famer and an analyst for ESPN, is happy to admit he was wrong. The Pirates got a bit better each season under Hurdle, and last year they made the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

That success has rehabilitated the Pirates' image inside the industry and with fans around the country. Sunday, the new-look Pirates will be showcased on ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball” for the first time in 12 years.

However, the Pirates will have a sub-.500 record when they face the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a national TV audience. The starting catcher, closer and one member of the starting rotation are on the disabled list. The pitching staff has scuffled, and the offense remains sketchy.

That's a lot to overcome, but Larkin said the Pirates must find a way to do it.

“This is a very important year for the Pirates,” Larkin said. “If they don't follow up the success of last year, what's going to be said about this team is, ‘See? I told you so. What did they do with the money they made last year? Why isn't the team better?' I don't know the answers to those questions, but that's where the public perception is.”

When the Pirates let Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and A.J. Burnett sign elsewhere over the winter, Larkin wondered if the good karma from 2013 would start to fade.

“I don't think there's a negative connotation about the (Pirates) organization per se,” Larkin said. “It's how they do business and how they haven't put a product on the field to get the job done that's the issue.”

Larkin also pointed to how Pirates management has resisted calling up hot-hitting outfielder Gregory Polanco — even as Travis Snider serves a suspension and Starling Marte battles a sore lower back.

“The question is, why?” Larkin said. “Is it because they don't need an outfielder who can hit for power? Is it because (Jose) Tabata's the guy? Why? Why? That's the way the organization is run. It's a financial issue. It's a control issue. We get that.”

Rodriguez eyes Thursday start

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (right knee inflammation) is scheduled to come off the disabled list Thursday and start that night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Rodriguez (0-2, 7.65) has been out since April 20.

Grilli good after bullpen session

Closer Jason Grilli (left oblique strain) reported no problems after throwing his second bullpen session Friday.

Grilli most likely will make a couple of rehab outings in the minors before coming off the DL. Will he move back into the closer's job? “I hate to take a guy away from his job because of an injury,” Hurdle said. “Last year, that's the way it worked out. We want to make sure he's as sharp as he can be, so we'll see.”

‘Mad men' star at PNC Park

Actor Jon Hamm, who rose to fame starring in “Mad Men,” will attend Sunday night's game at PNC Park. Hamm portrays a sports agent in the movie “Million Dollar Arm,” based on the story of Pirates minor leaguer Rinku Singh.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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