Bob Smizik: Hurdle can’t stay with Grilli

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Random thoughts on the Pirates:

• Clint Hurdle prides himself on being a leader of men. Which means it’s times for him to answer the challenge of his deteriorating bullpen with the obvious and much-needed action. Jason Grilli needs to be removed as the team’s closer. Grilli almost cost the team another game yesterday by allowing a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. But the Pirates came back to beat Cincinnati, 4-3, in 12 innings.

Grilli was a spectacularly successful closer for the Pirates for most of the first three months of last season when he took over full-time from the traded Joel Hanrahan.

Here are some of his numbers from those first three months of 2013.

ERA, 1.72; WHIP, 0.85; K/9, 14.5; K/B, 8.42.

Here are the same numbers since June of 2013.

ERA, 4.78; WHIP, 1.56; K/9, 9.0; K/B; 1.88.

Finally: In the first three months of last year, Grilli gave up one home run in 36 2/3 innings. Since that time span, he has allowed seven home runs in 32 innings.

Strikeouts are down, walks, hits and home runs are up. Do you think there might be something wrong?

Hurdle dodged the issue in his postgame news conference ''I'll talk to who I need to talk to: the coaches involved, Neal (Huntington). We'll make a decision that we feel is best for the ball club.”

It’s important for a leader to support his men. But there comes a time when through performance that support no longer is warranted. Hurdle, the leader, needs to make the tough decision and remove Grilli as the Pirates closer.

• Gregory Polanco has been the rare athlete to not only live up to the hype but to surpass it. In nine games he is batting .385 with a .916 OPS. His speed is better than advertised. He creates infield singles out of what look like routine outs and his speed to first base is going to make National League infielders feel the pressure. Despite this speed, he’s yet to even try to steal a base. One of these days, Hurdle will turn him loose on the bases and further increase his value.

Polanco is not going to continue to hit .385. He’ll have his slump, his average will settle. But through nine games there’s nothing to indicate the excitement that preceded him was not well deserved.

• Jeff Locke looks like the Jeff Locke of the first half of 2013 when he made the All Star team. He pitched six innings yesterday and allowed two runs on three hits while walking one. In his past three starts, since replacing Gerrit Cole in the rotation, his ERA is 2.14. His WHIP is 0.71. In 21 innings, he has struck out 14 and walked two.

• The schedule is geared for the Pirates to make a move in the standings. Their next 16 games against teams that are a combined 54 games under .500 -- the Cubs, Rays, Mets, Diamondbacks and Phillies. Enhancing the soft schedule is the face the Pirates are days away from being at full strength with the returns from the disabled list of Cole and Neil Walker. Their additions, combined with the play of Polanco, give the Pirates the look of a team that can win, say, 10 of those 16 games. If they can do that, they’ll be in contention in the NL Central.

• Negative notes: The Pirates have 57 errors. That not only leads the National League it is more than twice as many as Cincinnati, which has the fewest at 27 . . . Pirates relievers lead the National League in innings with 241 2/3 . . . Despite some recent good performances, starters are 13th in the NL in ERA, 11th in WHIP and 10th in BAA . . . The Pirates have converted only 60 percent of their save opportunities (21 of 35), which puts them 14th in the league. Last year they led the league at 79 percent.


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