Poor play leads to Hurdle's dismissal
Despite managerial change, Hurdle still loyal to Rox
DENVER -- Clint Hurdle has been loyal to the Rockies since being hired in the Minor League system in 1994. After a meeting in which general manager Dan O'Dowd removed him as manager, Hurdle continued to profess loyalty.
Bench coach Jim Tracy replaced Hurdle on an interim basis.
Hurdle led the team to the World Series in 2007. But that was his only winning season. He went 524-625 after being named to replace Buddy Bell on April 26, 2002. Hurdle was the Major League team's hitting coach from 1997 until he replaced Bell.
"After meeting with Dan today and the conversation we had, there was no doubt in my mind they felt a different direction was needed," Hurdle said in an address to the media, at the end of which he declined questions. "I've always been all-in, I'm all-in now.
"I wish Jim Tracy nothing but good luck, good fortune, good health and success of the ballclub. I wish the players the same. I feel good about the coaching staff that's been put in place. Hopefully, the players will understand there's a penalty to be paid for playing poorly for a long period of time. I'm accountable for that. That's my responsibility and I accept that completely."
Early in Hurdle's stint as manager, the team made a complete departure from a plan based on signing free agent pitchers such as Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle and dealing out huge contracts. A turnover to a player development emphasis meant roster instability and losing.
It all came together during a magical run at the end of 2007, when the mostly homegrown club won 14 of its final 15 regular-season games and swept the National League Division and Championship series before being swept in the World Series.
But the Rockies fell to 74-88 last season. Part of it was injuries to such players as Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki. Part of it was the team felt the weight of expectations.
Hurdle headed into the final year of his contract preaching a back-to-basics approach in Spring Training. The team did fundamental drills and charted execution in the same fashion as the organization's Minor Leaguers. But with the regular season came the same poor execution in key situations that led to the downfall in 2008.
Hurdle didn't idly let the team fall to 18-28, 14 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. Struggling players would sit for two games for intense work in the batting cage. It worked for rookie center fielder Dexter Fowler, catcher Chris Iannetta and outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. Results were spotty-to-poor with third baseman Garrett Atkins, shortstop Troy Tulowitkzi and infielder Ian Stewart.
Also, Hurdle changed closers twice in the first month, going from Huston Street to Manuel Corpas and back to Street. While Street has responded with 13 straight scoreless outings, Corpas has continued an up-and-down pattern. The club also has jettisoned two long relieves, Glendon Rusch and Matt Belisle, and still hasn't solidified the bullpen.
The starting staff has been the most consistent part of the club, although it is 14-19 with a 4.62 ERA. Starters have compiled 29 "quality starts" (six or more innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs).
In a last-ditch effort, Hurdle tried a hard-line approach. He benched Tulowitzki for a game for swinging at a first pitch after a walk and grounding into a double play. Atkins, the team's cleanup hitter to open the year, became essentially a reserve.
The team went a respectable 5-5 on its most recent road trip. But it displayed a troubling tendency to give up big innings -- a 10-run seventh in an 11-4 loss to the Pirates, a seven-run fourth in a 12-4 loss to the Braves.
A three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers led to the end. In the opener, the Rockies gave up seven runs in the fourth and eight in the seventh of a 16-6 loss. The closest the club came of offensive life was a three-run ninth in the finale, an 8-6 loss Wednesday.
The team played tight, and players admitted being aware of speculation about Hurdle's status. Now Hurdle is no longer a factor.
"They have the freedom to go do what they need to do with Jim and the coaching staff," Hurdle said. "I'll be pulling for them from afar. My biggest regret is our team not winning more games, plain and simple because truly, that's what I'm responsible for, the play on the field."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.