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Biertempfel: Pirates' Hurdle deserves look — again — as NL Manager of Year

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle celebrates with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte after defeating the Washington Nationals last month 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, Aug. 9, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
 

The voting for last season's National League Manager of the Year wasn't even close. Clint Hurdle ran away with it, getting 25 of a possible 30 first-place votes.

It was well deserved. Hurdle asked for 95 wins during spring training.

The Pirates gave him 94. They made the playoffs for the first time since Right Said Fred and Sir Mix-a-Lot were atop the pop charts. He was the alchemist behind one of the best feel-good stories in all of sports.

That's a pretty good campaign platform to sway the voters.

Of course, it helped that Hurdle's roster included the NL MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, one of the top rookie pitchers in the game, the home run co-champion and a lights-out bullpen.

This year, however, Hurdle might be building an even stronger case for Manager of the Year — even if the Pirates fall short of a playoff berth.

“I'd argue he's done even a better job this year of keeping some things together,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “This division and the wild-card spots are probably going to come down to a survival of the fittest. Every club has lost some key personnel for an extended period of time. It's going to test organizational depth. It's going to test manager and staff creativity.”

Going into this weekend's series against the San Diego Padres, the Pirates were 1 12 games out of first place in the NL Central and one-half game out of a wild-card spot.

How's that possible?

Eight players from the 25-man roster on Opening Day are inactive or off the team. Gerrit Cole and Clint Barmes are on the disabled list. Jose Tabata and Tony Sanchez are at Triple-A Indianapolis. Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris were traded. Wandy Rodriguez and Travis Ishikawa were released.

Russell Martin missed 21 games with a bad hamstring. Neil Walker was down two weeks after an emergency appendectomy and also missed most of this past week with a cranky lower back.

Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano sat out a month with a strained oblique.

And then there's the rib injury to Andrew McCutchen. No one knows how long he'll be out.

Add all that to the Pirates' already heavy mix of platoons, mix-and-match bullpen usage and hot-or-not lineup shuffling, and it's amazing Hurdle's head doesn't ache as badly as his soon-to-be surgically replaced hip.

“I don't know if I'd want Clint's job,” Barmes said, shaking his head.

“He's got so much going on, with how crazy this year has been — guys going up and down, the injuries and all that.”

Hurdle isn't moping about the comings and goings. And he made it clear during a pregame team meeting Tuesday that he won't let anybody in the clubhouse wallow in self-pity.

“I shared a quote with the guys from Lou Holtz: ‘Don't tell people your problems. Eighty percent of them don't care, and the other 20 percent are happy you have them,' ” Hurdle said. “It makes perfect sense. Go out and play. Find a way to compete. There are no excuses.”

Despite the Pirates' dogged hunt for the division title, Hurdle probably will not repeat as Manager of the Year. That award, like so many others in the sports and entertainment business, can be as much a popularity contest as it is based on merit.

Maybe Ron Roenicke of upstart Milwaukee or Washington's rookie skipper Matt Williams will grab the prize.

But as they fill out their ballots, the 30 NL writers with a vote would do well to give Hurdle serious consideration.

“Sure, why not?” Russell said. “He's pretty consistent with what he does. He's the same guy every day. Level-headed. Never gets too high or too low. Always staying positive with us. I'm a fan. I think he's done a great job. He's had his work cut out for him this year, definitely.”

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

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