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Pirates notebook: Hurdle 'not going to move the closer'

| Sunday, June 29, 2014, 2:36 p.m.

Clint Hurdle has departed from tradition before.

Hurdle agreed to dramatically increase the use of defensive shifts last year, moving infielders from their traditional places on the field. When with the Rockies, Hurdle briefly went to a four-man rotation. The Pirates manager was asked Sunday if he had considered breaking from traditional bullpen construction, and more creatively use his best relief pitcher in situations prior to the ninth inning.

“No, I'm not going to move the closer,” Hurdle said. “A defensive metric system is a change in area. A position change in the bullpen is a change in role. There is a significant difference in that. You cannot have played the game and understand, but I think it helps to have played.”

There is a statistical-based movement that recommends managers stop the practice of reserving the ninth inning for their best reliever and instead employ their best relief arm for what they believe is the most critical point in the game.

“You're talking about people, and I think you lose sight of trying to be relational in a game. We have taken a generation and just jumped to statistics and numbers and eliminated the human heartbeat,” Hurdle said. “Truly, I don't think the public understands the dynamics of a bullpen. I have a very good feel for when (Tony) Watson needs to pitch, when (Mark) Melancon needs to pitch.”

Still, Hurdle said the Pirates have explored other changes to bullpen construction. Hurdle said the Pirates have internally studied the Houston Astros' radical bullpen usage in the minor leagues, which includes starting pitchers alternating starts with bullpen outings.

“We have talked about (changing bullpen construction). We've even identified some of the things Houston has tried to do in the minor leagues,” Hurdle said. “We have had conversation there.”

One thing Hurdle does agree with the sabermetric crowd on? He doesn't like the save stat, which has influenced how bullpens are managed. It is the save stat that also affects relievers' salaries in arbitration and free agency, creating further conflicts.

Hurdle was asked about the concept of a “fireman,” when managers often employed their best relief pitchers before the ninth inning.

“A fireman did not only pitch in the sixth inning if there was a hot time that needed to be doused out,” Hurdle said. “A fireman was a fireman. There wasn't five firemen in your bullpen.”

Marte back, McCutchen and Martin out

Starling Marte (hand) returned to the starting lineup, but Russell Martin and Andrew McCutchen were held out.

McCutchen was absent due to a scheduled day off designed to give him consecutive days off with Monday's off day. Martin was held out of the lineup for a second consecutive day with what Pirates GM Neal Huntington described as “soreness.”

“Russ threw his body around (Friday),” Huntington said. “With a natural off-day Saturday, a day game after a night game, and an off-day (Monday), we felt it was a good opportunity to give him another day to recover.”

Hurdle said rookie right fielder Gregory Polanco will be given a day off Tuesday.

Meadows to debut

Austin Meadows, the Pirates' top draft pick from 2013, is set to make his 2014 debut this week after being sidelined the first three months of the season with a hamstring injury. Meadows had an excellent pro debut last year, further raising his prospect stock.

“We are looking forward to getting Austin back into games sometime early this week,” Huntington said. “He did have a setback …. He essentially injured the hamstring twice.”

Liriano progressing

Liriano continues to make progress in rehabbing from his oblique injury, completing a 52-pitch bullpen. “He came through his side very well. Next step would be a sim game,” Huntington said.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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