CINCINNATI – Clint Hurdle gets criticized heavily at times by fans for the way he handles his pitching staff —particularly his bullpen — and, at times, rightfully so. “Hurdled” is the favorite term of the social-media crowd.
Hurdle’s critics could have said the Pirates manager “Hurdled” Dario Agrazal on Wednesday. He lifted the rookie pitcher with two outs in the fourth inning, the Pirates trailing just 3-0 and the right-hander’s pitch count at just 55.
The move also seemed odd because Reds first baseman Joey Votto was coming to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Agrazal had struck out Votto in his first two plate appearances.
It was hard to argue with the result. Michael Feliz came on and got Votto to fly out to right field to end the threat, though it wasn’t enough to turn the tide in a game the Pirates lost 4-1 at Great American Ball Park to fall to 3-16 since the All-Star break.
Hurdle’s reasoning was that he didn’t want Votto to get a third look at Agrazal, especially with Reds starter Luis Castillo shutting down the Pirates (47-61).
“I felt my decision was: Does he get Votto out again or is Votto going to throw a ball into the gap? Where’s the game going?” Hurdle said. “I felt a fresh look with a different arm on Votto was our best option. When I make those moves, you’re trying to keep them off the board. The fastball command was a little problematic and with the way Castillo was throwing we couldn’t afford to get any further behind.”
Agrazal said he was surprised by the decision to get yanked so soon. However, he also thought there was a different reason for his early removal.
Agrazal had just hit Reds right fielder Jesse Winker with a pitch on the right shoulder to load the bases. Two batter earlier, he also hit Tucker Barnhart. That caused many of the Reds players to move to the top step of the dugout just hours after a brawl between the two teams on Tuesday night resulted in five players being ejected.
Here is Winker's hit by pitch:
In his mind, Agrazal felt Hurdle was trying to defuse the potential for more fighting.
“In the beginning, I was a little shocked that he was taking me out but then I was able to recognize the situation, what happened last night and just how hot the situation was,” Agrazal said. “I completely understood and submitted to it.”
It seems certain that was the real reason behind Hurdle’s move, even if he didn’t want to give the Reds the satisfaction of knowing it. If it indeed was behind his thinking, then it was a smart decision to keep a pitcher making his seventh major-league start away from a potentially volatile situation.
Agrazal has lost two starts in a row, allowing a combined eight runs in nine innings. That comes after he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his first four outings.
Hurdle cited fastball command as the primary reason for Agrazal’s struggles Wednesday. However, scouts who have watched Agrazal believe the league is starting to catch up with now that teams have more detailed scouting reports on him.
It should also be pointed out that Agrazal, 24, has never been considered a top prospect and does not have the pure stuff to overpower hitters. It is also instructive to note that the Pirates did not consider Agrazal a top prospect as recently as January when they dropped him off the 40-man roster.
Thus, it is easy to deduce that he might have been pitching over his head in those first four starts.
Agrazal’s problem against the Reds was the home run ball. Jesse Winker went deep on the first pitch of the game and Eugenio Suarez’s two-run shot in the third inning made it 3-0.
That was more than enough for Castillo whose changeup baffled the Pirates, limiting them to one run in seven-plus innings.
“They went in there swinging and they connected with some really good pitches that I threw,” Agrazal said. “They went in there with the game plan to hack it. I went out there with my mentality to continue to attack and compete and unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.”
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