CHICAGO -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle picked up the phone this week to advocate for reliever Vin Mazzaro, a bullpen mainstay in the club's run to the playoffs last year.
Hurdle figured Mazzaro's performance spoke for itself, but was puzzled when the reliever cleared waivers.
Mazzaro has 72 hours -- by midnight Thursday -- to accept an assignment to Class AAA Indianapolis or become a free agent.
"He's earned a spot in the major leagues and he doesn't have one. That's kind of hard to figure out," said Hurdle.
"There just seemed like there'd be value for that kind of guy within our game. Maybe it's just a challenging time of the year right now where people don't want to take that gamble? I don't know. Not everything in the game you can figure out."
Mazzaro was a very key cog in the bullpen for the Pirates last season, posting a 2.81 ERA in 732/3 innings pitched. He had a career best 52.2 percent groundball rate and was a tough cut at the end of spring training.
"I just spoke about what he was able to do for us to try and help him along. He posted up over 70 times. He pitched when we were ahead, behind, early, late, took the ball multiple innings," said Hurdle. "And, for whatever reason, there just wasn't a fit that anybody was comfortable with whether it be a trade or waiver."
If he accepts an assignment in Class AAA, Mazzaro likely would be the first recall if an injury hits the bullpen.
"If he stayed with us, it'd be excellent for us," said Hurdle. "I just want him to get an opportunity."
Hank Aaron's record
Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the night Atlanta's Hank Aaron broke the home run record set by Babe Ruth with the New York Yankees, a moment Hurdle fondly recalled listening to on the radio with his father as a teenager in 1974.
"I think I had a game that night. When we got back, was able to flip on the radio," said Hurdle. "We knew it could be the night. You never know? When he hit the home run, I can just remember the radio noise. You could almost feel it. My dad was trying to explain to me the significance."
Aaron hit No. 715 April 8, 1974.
The temperature at first pitch Tuesday was in the 40s -- not exactly the kind of weather that bodes of a big day at the plate.
"It's a frame of mind. I needed to go up there. I needed to get ready, and I needed to hit the first ball hard," said Hurdle. "If I got blown up that first at-bat there seemed to be some collateral damage that played out the rest of the game for whatever reason."
Hurdle's advice: Find that fastball early and capitalize. "Look for a fastball -- hit it hard where it's pitched and get up and get going with it. It can be challenging."
Next up: Hammel
Jason Hammel's turn in Chicago's pitching rotation comes up again tonight. He made his debut for the Cubs Thursday at PNC Park, allowing just two hits and one earned run in 62/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
"He's going to throw strikes. He's going to be around the zone," said Hurdle. "[Had] downhill play on the fastball, both sides of the plate, a very good changeup and breaking ball. "Changed speed, kept hitters off balance."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.