Hurdle embraces Leyland reunion
By Rob Biertempfel and Karen Price, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle joked that when he was with the Colorado Rockies, their interleague rival always seemed to be the Tigers and he was the only guy on the team happy to go to Detroit.

"Grandma was right up the road," said Hurdle, who was born in Big Rapids, Mich.

The Pirates open interleague play today against the Tigers at PNC Park. They'll also host the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox and travel to the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays in June. The Pirates are 73-123 (50-51 in Pittsburgh) against American League teams since interleague play began in 1997.

This is the third consecutive year the Pirates face the Tigers, who swept the Pirates in Detroit last year and are 134-113 all-time in interleague. They are 63-27 against the National League since former Pirates manager Jim Leyland took over in 2006.

Hurdle was a coach under Leyland in 1999 in Colorado.

"I was really looking forward to it just because of Jimmy, the pedigree and what he had done," Hurdle said. "He came there for all the right reasons, and it was just a hard year for everybody. We never really got any traction, and the Columbine thing, I think, really affected him in a way that nobody could have expected."

Still, Hurdle said there were opportunities to learn from Leyland, even if for just one year.

"I did watch him, the way he was able to engage in the game, the passion for the game, thinking forward in the game and utilization of the bullpen in the game," Hurdle said. "He's one of the better ones along those lines."

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen said he would prefer to play the same teams every year in interleague action because it evens out the competition.

That said, he's looking forward to the challenge of hosting the Red Sox in another month.

"When the Red Sox come, it's going to be like, 'Let's go see what we've got,' " McCutchen said. "We play them in spring training, but that's about it. It'll definitely be fun just to see what we're made of and see what we can do against a team like that."

Karen Price

[HIGH-LIGHT]Biertempfel: Facing AL teams is hit for Pirates[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Interleague play is a hit for the Pirates when it comes to filling PNC Park. But that's about the only good thing.

Since interleague play began in 1997, the Pirates have a .372 winning percentage (73-123) against the American League. That includes some dramatic victories but also a few of the most ignominious losses in team history.

The Pirates' 2-13 interleague mark was the worst in the majors last season. In those games, they hit a collective .237 and had a 5.50 ERA.

MLB owners love interleague play because it boosts attendance. Since interleague play began in 1997, the average attendance for those games is 33,261 -- 11 percent higher than the 29,759 average for intraleague games.

The Pirates' average home attendance for interleague games has been higher each year than their average overall home attendance. Three of the top six crowds at PNC Park came for the matchups against New York Yankees in 2008.

This weekend, the Pirates host Detroit for the first of three interleague series at PNC Park this season. With ex-skipper Jim Leyland back in the house and a Neil Walker bobblehead giveaway, Saturday's game will draw at least 30,000.

The only way to get tickets to the three-game set June 24-26 against the Boston Red Sox is to buy a 10-game or prorated full-season ticket plan. "Huge demand," said chief marketing officer Lou DePaoli.

And, lets face it, there even will be a few twisted souls who'll want to go to the series against Baltimore, if only to boo Orioles third base coach John Russell.

Rob Biertempfel

[HIGH-LIGHT]Minor league report: D'Arnaud improving defense in Triple-A[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Shortstop Chase d'Arnaud committed 28 errors last year with Double-A Altoona but has just three in his first 40 games with Triple-A Indianapolis.

"Chase has played well so far. We've challenged him on his consistency, and he continues to make strides in that area," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "That is reflective of his defensive play to date compared to last year. Gary Green, Dean Treanor and Jeff Branson have done a great job with him defensively, helping him make a few minor tweaks that have led to more consistency."

Offensively, d'Arnaud, 24, has settled into a mental approach that has led to productivity, Stark said. The Pirates' fourth-round pick in 2008 -- rated as the team's 10th-best prospect by Baseball America -- had three hits Wednesday and was 16 for 30 (.533) in his previous eight games. During that time, he hit a triple, double and home run and had seven RBI, nine runs scored and five stolen bases.

D'Arnaud slipped up Thursday, going 0 for 4, but still is hitting .277 this season (41 hits, 148 at-bats, eight doubles, three triples, three home runs, 19 RBI, 24 runs scored). He hit just .205 in April of last year and .211 in May.

Karen Price