Big week ahead for Pittsburgh’s chances

PITTSBURGH — This week of games could determine which direction the Pirates take for the rest of the season.

Their homestand includes three games against Washington, then five against Milwaukee, including a Saturday afternoon doubleheader.

“This is a really big week for us,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “I don’t ever want to over-emphasize how important a single stretch of games is, but (at) 10 games out of the wild card, 12-plus games out in the division, this is as far out of a playoff spot in July as we’ve been in eight years.”

Despite projections of 78 or 79 wins, Huntington said he believed the Pirates were better than that and could exceed what had been predicted. Other small market teams had done that recently, including Milwaukee and Kansas City. The latter got to the World Series two times and won on the second trip.

“We came out of the gates and showed that was a possibility,” Huntington said. “Unfortunately, this club that I put together, that I am accountable for, that I am responsible for, has gone in the opposite direction.

“As we get near the trade deadline, looking at this week ahead, we need to take a more realistic look at this club this year. How do we fight back? And if we don’t, how do we position ourselves to be one of those clubs next year and for years to come?

“I want to emphasize that this is not all on three games with Washington and five with Milwaukee. But this not a stretch where 4-4 makes us feel good. We recognize we need to be better.”

The Pirates have to make decisions on veteran players, most of whom should be available for trades. The one most likely to be dealt is second baseman Josh Harrison. The Pirates hold a $10.5 million option on Harrison next year (or a $1 million buyout) and an $11.5 million option for the following season.

The Pirates have an abundance of middle infielders at the higher reaches of the minor league system and are unlikely to bring Harrison back next season under any circumstances.

They could also be ready to deal Ivan Nova, David Freese, Corey Dickerson and Jordy Mercer.

“The first thing that has to happen in trades is another team has to want your players,” Huntington said.

Talking it out

Hurdle met with pitcher Jameson Taillon, who was upset with being removed from Saturday’s game in the seventh inning after 77 pitches.

After Saturday’s 3-2 loss, Taillon said he was deflated to see Edgar Santana warming up in the bullpen, and was further disappointed when he was replaced by Santana.

“It’s pretty unfortunate. 66 pitches without anyone touching second base … it’s tough,” Taillon said. “I was looking forward to being the guy who gave the bullpen a rest and ended the streak.”

Instead, Santana gave up the tie-breaking hit and the Pirates were unable to overcome the one-run deficit it created.

Hurdle said Sunday’s meeting with Taillon was “one of our best conversations ever,” but declined to elaborate.

“None of your business,” a smiling Hurdle said when asked about the content of their talk.

“I believe in communication,” he said. “I believe in listening to players and I believe in sharing individual truths and team truths. I would save my comments for Jameson. We’ve already shared our thoughts together.”

Taillon was not available for comment.

Huntington defended Hurdle’s decision, pointing out that Taillon has not been effective pitching when he faces hitters for a third time in the game.

“He’s been pitching as a well below average pitcher the third time through the lineup,” Huntington said. “You could even argue that Clint showed enormous faith and trust in (Taillon) and recognized that he’d thrown the ball exceptionally well to give him the seventh inning.

“The statistics show he probably shouldn’t have gone back out there for the seventh inning.”

According to Huntington, hitters have an OPS of 1.100 against Taillon in the seventh inning and an .850 OPS in the third plate appearance against him in a game.

Cervelli back

Francisco Cervelli was activated from the concussion disabled list and caught Sunday’s game.

Jacob Stallings was sent back to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Musgrove ready

Joe Musgrove, who is on the disabled list with a finger infection, said he is ready to pitch again.

“I’m good to go,” he said.

He could start Tuesday or Wednesday against Washington.

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