Hurdle looking for answers to shake funk
Skipper benches Tulowitzki in hopes of inspiring team
ATLANTA -- Rockies manager Clint Hurdle says he has spoken "ad nauseam" about situational hitting. That's why Troy Tulowitzki's first-pitch swing that led to a double-play grounder in Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Braves landed him on the bench on Wednesday. Hurdle said that could be the best way to reinforce his point.
But Hurdle also said the team needs to have a more relaxed, fun approach.
It goes to show that when a team enters the season with expectations but finds itself eight games below .500, the answers aren't easy.
Here's the background on the punitive move with Tulowitzki:
At PNC Park before Friday night's first game of the current road trip, Hurdle called a meeting to discuss the "offensive staples." The team devoted extra time and scrutiny to fundamentals, but the fundamental performance has been inconsistent at best. Part of the discussion, Hurdle said, was trusting teammates in the batting order.
In the eighth inning with the Rockies down, 6-1, Dexter Fowler drew a walk from Rafael Soriano at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat. Then Tulowitzki swung at a high 90-mph, first-pitch fastball. Hurdle noted that if Tulowitzki had homered, the score would have been 6-3. But if he'd worked some pitches and found his way on base, a rally could have been built with Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe and Chris Iannetta hitting behind him.
Hurdle said he believes hitters should take the situation into account and know the correct approach. This year, he said, he has signaled for hitters to take pitches more than in previous years, because hitters are not thinking through situations. There was no take sign for Tulowitzki.
The two talked in the dugout. After the game, Hurdle informed Tulowitzki he would sit Wednesday night.
Tulowitzki's competitiveness is the reason he is recognized as a team leader. Most of the time, the Rockies encourage his all-out play. But it can lead to trouble. It led to a seat for Wednesday night.
"One of the things that will help from this point on is curbing their competitive spirit," Hurdle said. "One of the issues we deal with offensively is getting outside of ourselves.
"And this will make sense. It made sense to him and it'll make sense to everybody else in there. We've talked it through and there's no more time for talking these issues, to put a shoulder around a guy and say, 'No, this isn't right.' This is how we're going to take care of it."
Tulowitzki believed in his approach to the at-bat.
"I thought it was the best, or I wouldn't have done it," Tulowitzki said. "I wasn't trying to hit into a double play. I was trying to extend the inning. His point was I should be more patient in that situation. You take it and learn from it."
In the big picture, though, Tulowitzki has generally been productive. He's reached safely in eight of his last 10 games. But there is room for improvement, as he has gone hitless in his last 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
But he's better off than Garrett Atkins, who started Wednesday in a 2-for-25 skid. There's also Ian Stewart, who has been playing third while Atkins has sat, but has seen his average drop to .189 -- three points below Atkins'. There's also the 1-8 record in one-run games.
In other words, plenty of evidence points to a team needing to loosen up. At the same time, Hurdle wants tighter focus and is prepared to bench folks to make sure it happens.
"No. 1, we've got to work and play the game to put ourselves in position to win," Hurdle said. "No. 2, we've got to get physically and mentally tougher, trust each other. And No. 3, we've got to embrace this game and have fun with it. There are too many times we're playing with clenched fists."
Tulowitzki said the team is trying to meet the manager's standards.
"There are definitely two sides to it," he said. "It's tough to have fun when you're losing games and you're told quite a few things. What it comes down to is we do need to have more fun and enjoy the game a little bit."
When a team is playing well, somehow it works.
"It's game awareness as much as anything, and when things don't go your way, how do you respond to them," Hurdle said. "How do you find ways to continue to compete? You compete by embracing the game, having fun with the game, sticking our your nose in the game, getting busy with the game.
"For me, it's not dichotomy. There's a plan and a way to go about the game, to be proactive with it, and to process it and move forward, rather than be reactive about everything that happens and your emotions take over after every negative thing."
All Tulowtizki can do Wednesday is put aside any emotions that come with the benching -- and, when he returns to the lineup, not commit any more execution offenses.
"He's the manager," Tulowitzki said. "What he says goes. He makes the lineup, so I'd better listen. Otherwise, I'm not going to be in, and I definitely want to be in there to help the team win.
"If he's doing it to teach the team a lesson and I have to be that guy, that's fine, too. Hopefully it doesn't happen to anybody else."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.