PITTSBURGH - Unlike predecessor John Russell, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle enjoys public speaking.
Hurdle offers some detailed answers to questions that he sprinkles with his favorite phrases and expressions - "in a good place, take ownership of it, put your foot down."
Sometimes it seems like he's borrowing from TV's Dr. Phil and other purveyors of pop psychology.
One of those answers got Hurdle in trouble with a segment of fandom last week. He explained that he left starter James McDonald in the game because of concerns for the player's psyche.
Given that McDonald and the Pirates gave up a 7-1 lead and wound up losing 9-8, that didn't fly. It sounded like Hurdle was engaged in some hand-holding while a game was getting away.
The fact is that Hurdle had a couple of very practical reasons for sticking with McDonald. The first is that the Pirates desperately need McDonald to be the effective pitcher he was in the first half of the season.
He's struggled since the All-Star break. Since the Pirates have not mentioned any physical problem that might explain the decline in his work, it has to be assumed that McDonald is just grappling with his approach.
One of the big reasons the team has exceeded expectations to this point has been the 1-2 punch of A.J. Burnett and McDonald at the top of the rotation. The Pirates haven't had the luxury of two dependable starting pitchers in a long time.
Good starting pitching not only shuts down opponents, it has a positive effect on a team. Players feel confident they have a chance to win games when they have reliable starting pitching.
The Pirates' rotation beyond Burnett and McDonald is less dependable. If McDonald slides into that pack instead of staying with Burnett, the Pirates have major trouble.
The other reason for sticking with McDonald was Hurdle wanted to avoid an early call to the bullpen. The Pirates' relief pitching was MLB's best in the first half of the season.
But as innings and appearances pile up, the quality of work has been affected. Asking the bullpen to cover four innings adds to that strain.
This was about McDonald's psyche only in the sense that the Pirates badly need to get him back on track.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org