Bob Smizik: Don't blame Hurdle

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Random thoughts on the Pirates, their manager and some of their players, as the season approaches the quarter-pole:

The team: That was a tough, tough loss to Milwaukee yesterday. Mark Melancon came on to protect a one-run lead in the ninth and did not retire a batter, as the Brewers won, 4-3. Still, the Pirates are 7-5 in their past 12 games -- a 94-win pace -- and are a much better team than they were in April. Whether they are good enough to stay in contention all season is in question. For the moment, though, all things -- good and bad -- are possible.

Clint Hurdle: He is being skewered in some place for bringing in Melancon and not staying with Tony Watson, who allowed a two-out single in the eighth but who also struck out two. In defense of Hurdle: If Watson pitched the ninth, there's no guarantee he'd have successfully closed the game and in almost all certainty he would not be available tonight against the Yankees. That availability is important to managers and understandably so. When teams lose leads late, the blame is often pointed at the manager. Sometimes it’s deserved. But not this time.

Wandy Rodriguez: Score one for Neal Huntington and his staff. The decision to start Rodriguez yesterday, after pitching poorly in April and worse in minor league rehabs, seemed strange. But Rodriguez pitched much better than expected, allowing two runs in five innings -- both coming on home runs. He was an above-average MLB starter as recently as a year ago. It was a heartening return, but it comes with no guarantees.

Pedro Alvarez: It’s beginning to look more like what you see is what you get with Pedro. The power remains impressive -- his eight home runs are three off the league lead. He’s on pace to again surpass 30. But he also continues to be a well-below average hitter. His batting average is .215. Worse, his slugging percentage is .389. That’s terrible for a No. 4 hitter. Hurdle should give some thought to moving Alvarez lower in the lineup. The first basemen are not ideal at hitting fourth, but look to be a better option than Alvarez.

Gaby Sanchez: In a start against right-handed pitching yesterday he produced what could have been the game-winning home run, if Melancon had held the lead. He has a .580 slugging percentage and an OPS of .906. While facing left-handed pitching, his primary role, his OPS is 1.065.

Ike Davis: Where’s the power? All of his home runs and eight of his 12 RBIs have come in two at bats -- a grand slam with the Mets and another with the Pirates. In his other 92 at bats, he has no home runs and four RBIs. But he’s drawing walks and hitting doubles -- six with the Pirates to be tied for second on the team. As a Pirate, he has a .792 OPS, which is OK. But more home runs and RBIs would be nice.

Neil Walker: He could well be the team MVP thus far with a bunch of clutch hits. He’s off to the best power start of his career with eight home runs and 23 RBIs. He’s doing well batting second, but could be just as effective batting fifth, particularly now that his right-handed hitting has improved. He’s has a 1.043 OPS against left-handers (in 30 plate appearance), which previously had been a major flaw in his game.

Jordy Mercer: After a miserable April (11-for-63), he’s batting .300 in May with an .833 OPS. He likely will never be an outstanding shortstop. But he has a chance to make it at the position because of his bat.

Travis Snider: He should never get another start as a right fielder, where he is batting .200 with a .601 OPS. That day in June that everyone is waiting for will be celebrated for two reasons: The arrival of Gregory Polanco; the finish of Travis Snider.

Jose Tabata: He should be given the chance he earned last season -- starting every day in right field. And bat him first.


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