Hurdle challenged just putting lineup together

PITTSBURGH — There’s a TV cooking show that gives chefs an assortment of ingredients and challenges them to make a meal of the random mix.

They might get chicken thighs, artichokes, peanut butter, bananas and bamboo shoots. The impossible task is to take those items and create a meal that won’t make people sick.

Clint Hurdle must have that feeling when he sits down with a blank lineup card and a roster filled with too many dubious choices.

The Pirates have been hit with a triple whammy that’s come at them in pairs:

n Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte are ineligible. Those absences take two quality bats out of the lineup. Kang may never be seen in Pittsburgh again. Marte is due to end his suspension on July 19. In the meantime, though, fully one-fourth of the projected starting lineup is in baseball jail.

n David Freese and Adam Frazier both went on the disabled list. They’re both active again, but the pain of their injuries was felt every day. Freese was pretty much the de facto third baseman with Kang half a globe away. Frazier found regular spot duty in both the infield and outfield. Minus them, the reach on the depth chart got even deeper, and that’s never a good idea.

n Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco have woefully underachieved. McCutchen has hit some home runs. He’s not the player he was three years ago, though. Remember when he was outperforming his modest (by MLB standards) contract? It’s a different scenario now. He hasn’t been worth the $14 million he’s being paid this year. Polanco, who has been installed in the cleanup spot, hit his first home run five weeks into the season.

When a team has that many problems, it isn’t going to be successful, no matter how good the pitching might be.

Poor Gerrit Cole. The only way he can get a win is to pitch a shutout and drive in a couple of runs himself.

Things could get better. Freese and Frazier are back, meaning there should be fewer starts for Alen Hanson and Gift Ngoepe, and less of John Jaso in the outfield. Polanco’s bat has shown signs of life. McCutchen has always been a slow starter, so maybe he has a rebound coming.

Perhaps Kang can secure that work visa and get back. If Marte doesn’t do anything else dumb and selfish between now and July, he’ll be available for most of the second half of the season.

In the meantime, Hurdle is challenged to whip up a lineup with some questionable ingredients.

The next step

Although it seems like the Stanley Cup playoffs have already been going on forever, the Penguins are only halfway through the trip they hope to take.

Two rounds down, two to go. Facing Ottawa should be less of a challenge than the Washington series was. Penguins in six.

In the know

One byproduct of the Penguins’ success is a new bunch of fans have jumped on the bandwagon.

That’s fine. Everybody has to start somewhere, and everyone couldn’t have been around when Mario Faubert was here before the other Mario.

It’s just funny to hear people speak knowingly of Ottawa’s 1-3-1 strategy. Two years ago they knew those numbers only as a possible lottery bet.

Piece of history

This should be a great year for high rollers itching to get some unique Pirates memorabilia.

In addition to the Roberto Clemente auction at the All-Star break, Willie Stargell’s family is putting a few treasures up for bids later this month.

The leading items are Stargell’s 1979 World Series ring and his Hall of Fame induction ring.

Better have a Brinks truck ready for those.

Special wish

Happy Mother’s Day to all. Sainthood to the mothers who didn’t throw away the baseball cards.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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