Pittsburgh Pirates Back Below .500: Clint Hurdle's Five Challenges

Eron NoreContributor IIIMay 16, 2011

Is it time for Alvarez to be sent down to AAA?
Is it time for Alvarez to be sent down to AAA?Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Leave it to the Milwaukee Brewers to throw a monkey wrench in to the Pirates good times. With a weekend sweep at the hands of the Brew Crew, the Pirates are now 18-22.

Any bandwagon fans the team gained by getting their nose above the .500 mark will surely abandon the team. But just because the record is not where fans want it to be, does that mean the season is lost and it is time to jettison all hope for the future? Absolutely not.

Clint Hurdle was not hired on as manager to fix the multitude of problems over night. In fact, it simply would be impossible to do that. Even if the Pirates do not return above .500 the rest of the season, there are still many challenges for Hurdle to address.

1. Get Pedro Alvarez back on track: Alvarez has struggled mightily this season, batting .210 in 34 games. He has more strike outs (41) than total bases (34). The power numbers are dismal with 1 HR and 7 RBI's.

The current debate is whether or not to send him back to AAA Indianapolis to allow him to regain his stroke. Internally, Hurdle and the front office have to determine what is best for Pedro long term. If that means he is back at the AAA level for a month or more, then that is what has to be done.

2. Find playing time for Ryan Doumit: For whatever reason, the organization has turned on Doumit completely. This past off season, it was no secret that he was available if any team wanted to take him off the Buccos hands. Basically, the team needs to quit playing games.

If he is on the roster, find ways to get him at bats. His stats are decent in his 26 games (.268 avg, 3 HR, 13 RBI) and on a team scratching and clawing for offense, there is no need to prove a point if he has not violated any team conduct rules.

3. Keep the wheels on Charlie Morton: When the Pirates acquired Charlie Morton, much hype surrounded his "stuff". As he debuted with the team and struggled immensely, the local media turned that into a running joke. Morton took some time off to get himself right both physically and mentally and has looked like a different player this season.

He is 4-1 with 3.13 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 46.0 IP this season. Having a pitcher of this caliber is extremely important to the future. Do what it takes to keep him physically and mentally fresh.

4. Develop roles for the future: This one is simple. For any guys that project out as possible roster spot holders past the next season, get them groomed for a role. In my opinion, there is nothing more important in sports than a guy being able to come to the ballpark/arena/etc. and know what is expected of them.

The Pirates have a hodgepodge of guys. Don't be afraid to experiment and see what sticks. It's not like one more losing season is going to put the city on suicide watch.

5. Maintain control and continue improving: Losing can take a toll on players. Make sure that nobody is speaking out of turn. Most importantly, keep the guys improving. While that might not be what the fanbase wants to hear, it's what is needed. The core group is young and will make mistakes.

There you have it. Even if the season is heading into the tank, these are the things to watch for. Sure, it's tough seeing the team potentially head down the toilet again, but I still believe the current group of guys deserve their chance to improve.

Crazy? Perhaps. At this point, blind faith is really all a Pirate fan has.