Frees extremely critical of Pirates manager

PITTSBURGH — It should have been easy to find manager Clint Hurdle at Pirates spring training camp on Friday.

He was under the bus, right where David Freese threw him in an unexpected camp-opening rant.

Freese unloaded on the Pirates over a number of topics. Some were valid, and some made as much sense as John Belushi’s “Was it over when the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor?” speech from “Animal House.”

There were plenty of darts flying from Freese’s locker, and some of them seemed to be aimed squarely at the manager.

Hurdle is beginning his eighth year, and has mostly escaped public criticism from players. Hurdle is from an old school era, but embraces new age methods like analytics, regular meetings with a leadership counsel he’s appointed and he even issues a daily inspirational email that ends, “Love, Clint.”

Hurdle’s the man in charge, so he must have the one Freese was talking about when he said, “You can’t do all these things if you don’t have the accountability, the demand to win. What’s the point in doing anything? The last two years, we haven’t done as well as we could’ve because of our environment. The demand to win just hasn’t been in the air.”

That falls on the manager. The demand to win isn’t there? No accountability? That’s clearly a strong blast at the way Hurdle runs the team.

Are these issues Freese has raised at leadership counsel meetings in the two years he’s been with the Pirates? Did he keep those observations to himself, or did he mention them and sit and watch as the clubhouse rotted over two seasons?

Freese added: “When you’re losing 10-2 in the pouring rain against (the Cubs and manager Joe) Maddon and you’re laughing, that’s not good. That says a lot.” He didn’t specify who was laughing.

Freese continued that theory when he said the Pirates didn’t have a losing record last season because Starling Marte was suspended for half the season and Jung Ho Kang was absent all year after failing to secure a work visa.

“I think we lost 87 games because our environment doesn’t allow,” Freese said. “I think that’s something we have to work on. I think it’s important to focus on, kind of the foundational components of what it takes to have a winning culture.”

Mostly what it takes to have a winning culture is better players. Marte went out, and John Jaso played too much. Kang never got here, and that meant Freese was used too often, something he admitted last season.

Freese linked the front office’s belief in analytics to a lack of urgency to win, which doesn’t seem logical. He also continued the long-standing tradition of baseball players advocating teams spend more money on players.

Here’s what happened to the Pirates in 2016. Their two best starting pitchers, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, had terrible seasons. It’s easy to point fingers at the end of the rotation losers like Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke, but there’s no hope when 1 & 2 fail.

Last year the players who were supposed to occupy the second through fifth spots either weren’t there (Kang and Marte) or flopped (Gregory Polanco). Andrew McCutchen, sainted now that he’s gone, was spectacular for two months and below average the rest.

The Pirates need better players (or at least better production from players who are already here).

The dissenting view belongs to Freese, who finds serious fault with a manager who was just given a four-year extension.

Should be an interesting discussion the next time Freese and Hurdle sit down for a chat.