Pirates notebook: Hurdle eyes fresh start for defense



LOS ANGELES -- The Pirates committed six errors in their three-game series against the New York Mets, pushing their season total to 42.

That ranks them among the worst offenders in Major League Baseball after Wednesday night, with only Cleveland (54), Washington (45) and the Chicago White Sox (43) committing more.

As the Pirates touched down in California Wednesday night to prepare for a four-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, manager Clint Hurdle wasn't sure they were far enough away from New York.

"It was as poorly as we played all season within 24 hours ... in all facets," Hurdle said. "That being said, our feet are in L.A. now, our feet aren't in New York. The farther we can get from New York, the better for me. We could've kept going. They said this is the end of the ride. I said, OK, I guess that's far enough."

What was most troubling is that defense is one of the ironclad strengths, the aspect of the game that can be counted on when the bats or pitchers are slumping.

"Defense is one of the things that has held us together. So when we don't live up to that expectation or don't play as well as we need to, things like last series happen," said shortstop Jordy Mercer. "We just have to get back to playing our game. We know if we play good defense and pitch we can win a lot of games. That's what this team is built around, it's what it's been built around for years."

The most glaring two errors of the series came on the same play, and led to a run in the final game against the Mets.

Daniel Murphy had grounded to third, but instead of being thrown out, took second when a throw by Pedro Alvarez caromed off the Mets dugout. The ball was collected by Neil Walker, who attempted to throw out Murphy at second.

But error No. 2 took place then when Mercer misplayed the throw, and the ball rolled into the outfield.

Murphy took third, and was singled in by David Wright one batter later.

"Well, unfortunately nobody likes it but you see it. Pedro's had some challenges throwing the ball across the diamond this year," said Hurdle. "We make a play where we have an out available at second and we lose eye contact. Jordy looked for the runner to make a tag and doesn't glove the ball. The ball is there to be gloved. There's an out to be had. We saw it [Tuesday] a little bit as well."

One thing that isn't to blame, Hurdle said, is the amount of practice.

"We get work," he said. "One thing we do here is work. We've got to play better. At the end of the day we've got to play better. They all understand the urgency in which you need to play here, the competitiveness you need to take out there. We've just got to play better."

Asked if Alvarez was suffering from some kind of injury, Hurdle responded: "I don't think there's anything wrong with his arm. He's been working to try to get better and more consistent."

If anything, Thursday started a clean slate.

"It was just a weird series, it seems like we bounce back really well though," said Mercer. "I'm hoping this series we can bounce back and get back to playing our game."

Grilli's on

Hurdle said Jason Grilli was ready to go and would be slotted as the closer as early as Thursday night if the situation allowed.

That lines up Mark Melancon as the setup man, and slots Justin Wilson and Tony Watson into the seventh-inning role.

"I think he's ready to go. We're going to put him in the back end of the bullpen [Thursday]. Talked to Mark. We'll move Mark up in front. Everybody will move up accordingly."

He said he will reconsider what the appropriate workload will be for Grilli, which will center around constant communication.

"I think the biggest challenge for us moving forward is to make sure we help Jason with his health," said Hurdle. "This is the second injury. So we've got to make sure we're always in communication, keep an eye on the pitches. We're probably going to revisit that together. What's a serviceable number to still have one night to come back the next night?"

Grilli suffered a forearm issue toward the end of the 2013 season, and just came off the disabled list last week after a left oblique injury.

"I think we can stay on top of fit. But I do like the way the bullpen sets up. Jason can be Jason at the end," said Hurdle. "The way everybody sets up in front of him. I like our bullpen that way.

"We still have multiple guys to pitch the eighth inning if Mark had pitched two days in a two and isn't available. Watson has pitched the eighth for a month. Wilson can be used in a variety of different ways now, as well as [Jared] Hughes. [Jeanmar] Gomez will slide to pretty much the long guy. [Bryan] Morris we're still trying to help find his way back right now. He's had some challenges."

No-hitter nerves

Francisco Liriano (0-5, 5.06 ERA) will face Josh Beckett (3-1, 2.43 ERA) tonight, which might be a interesting moment for Dodgers catcher Drew Butera.

Butera caught a no-hitter by Liriano when the two played for the Minnesota Twins in 2011 and just caught Beckett's no-hitter Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Butera told the Los Angeles Times he was a nervous wreck with Beckett, but recalls Liriano being silent.

"I was an emotional wreck after the fourth inning. You think about it, but you try not to think about it," he told the Times. "Liriano, he was dead silent.

"Obviously there was a little bit of a language barrier there."

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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