PITTSBURGH -- The lineup Clint Hurdle sent out to face Johnny Cueto and the Reds on Tuesday night is, by and large, what has been the standard lineup used down the stretch, after the trades that brought Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh. Perhaps the one spot that could have been up for discussion was at shortstop, with the choice between the glove and veteran presence of Clint Barmes or the offensive upside of Jordy Mercer.
There were a number of reasons Hurdle went with Barmes, not the least of which is having a quality glove at that premium position can be crucial, especially in the postseason.
"For us older men, we always talked about the strength of the ballclub being up the middle with your catcher, your second baseman, your shortstop and your center fielder," Hurdle said. "He's given us that opportunity to be stronger."
Barmes began the season as the everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh, but Mercer gradually ate into his playing time as the Pirates sought to get a little more offense from the spot. Rather than show bitterness, Barmes worked tirelessly with Mercer to help him improve the defensive side of his game.
"He has gotten outside of himself to spend hour upon hour in helping Jordy along the way," Hurdle said. "Jordy has become a much better shortstop because of Clint's selflessness. [He] got some experience, knows the value of an out, strengthened us up the middle."
Barmes did receive more of the playing time at short down the stretch, and it's likely to continue as the postseason continues if the Pirates advance. Mercer would probably get any starts against left-handed pitching, but with no lefties in the Cardinals' rotation, his role should continue as a backup and pinch-hitting possibility until the National League Championship Series. It won't be because of Barmes' bat -- he hit just .174 in September -- but he has the ability to change the game with his glove.
"We use the word a lot in the game, 'impact,'" Hurdle said. "Barmes has been an impact defender for us. Those that have watched our club throughout the season, there's games when he makes plays that nobody else we have can make."
Bucs opt for Snider's bat over Pie's speed, defense
PITTSBURGH -- In assembling his 25-man roster for a one-game playoff round, Clint Hurdle said consideration was given to all 35 men who finished out the season with the Pirates. But in reality, the manager had to make only one hard decision.
Felix Pie or Travis Snider as the extra left-handed-hitting outfielder?
In going with Snider, Hurdle essentially went with his bat over Pie's defense and baserunning speed. While Pie batted .138 overall in limited playing time and went 2-for-9 as pinch-hitter, Snider had three pinch-hit home runs among his total of five.
"Snider has provided us with the most productive left‑handed bat off the bench," Hurdle said. "The home runs, the RBIs [seven in a pinch], he's given us some big swings this year.
"In lieu of Felix's baserunning and the defense, we felt more inclined to go with Travis."
Snider is 5-for-11 with three RBIs off the usual first man out of Cincinnati's bullpen, Alfredo Simon. He is hitless in 13 at-bats against the rest of the Reds' bullpen.
The right-handed complement to Snider on the bench is Jose Tabata. The pair back up the starting outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Marlon Byrd.
Cole could come out of 'pen in NL Wild Card Game
PITTSBURGH -- There was never any real doubt who was going to get the ball to start Tuesday night's National League Wild Card Game. Manager Clint Hurdle tweaked the Pirates' rotation so Francisco Liriano would be ready to go for Pittsburgh's first postseason game since 1992.
What does remain in question is how, if at all, Gerrit Cole will be utilized.
Cole became an option for Hurdle when the Pirates beat the Reds on Saturday to clinch the ability to host this one-game playoff. The rookie right-hander was slated to start Sunday's game in Cincinnati, but when that game was rendered meaningless, he was scratched, making him ready, willing and able for work on Tuesday.
Cole could play a role in one of two ways. If Liriano falters early, Hurdle could have a quick hook knowing he has a fresh Cole in the bullpen. As impressive as Liriano has been here at PNC Park (8-1, 1.47 ERA) and overall, when he's been off, it's often been apparent early in the game. His 4.50 ERA in first innings in 2013 is his worst ERA by inning. If there are those early warning signs on Tuesday, Cole would be a very good fallback option.
As much fun as it might be to see Cole come out of the bullpen for an inning, firing triple-digit fastballs, that's a highly unlikely scenario. If Liriano pitches as well as the Pirates expect him to, and he goes deep into the game, then Cole isn't likely to make an appearance. Instead, he would be the probable starter for Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals on Friday afternoon in St. Louis. Should he pitch on Tuesday and the Pirates advance, he could be moved back to Game 3, which would be back in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The only other scenario where Cole could be called upon on Tuesday is if the game goes extra innings, where he potentially would have the ability to throw multiple frames, especially compared to the Pirates' relief corps.
"That would be the way we're anticipating going," Hurdle said about not using Cole if Liriano is effective. "The other option is if we get in extended innings, he could still come into play."
McCutchen's mom back at PNC for anthem
PITTSBURGH -- For the second time in two months, Petrina McCutchen delivered the national anthem prior to a Pirates game.
This time, Andrew's mom had a lot of help. Caught up in the emotion of Pittsburgh's first postseason game in 21 years on Tuesday night, the sellout crowd of 40,487 sang along with her, part of the amped-up fans' loud and vocal pregame celebration.
The All-Star center fielder had hit a homer when Petrina sang the anthem prior to an early-August game, and he had already put her on alert that she would have to keep coming back if he did it again in the National League Wild Card Game against the Reds.
That command performance remained unconfirmed after McCutchen's first at-bat against Johnny Cueto. He drew a walk on a full-count pitch with two outs in the first.
First number, last word
36: The magic number, evidently, to finish in a tie for the National League lead in home runs. Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt both wound up with 36 homers to create the second NL tie in 50 years. In 1984, Atlanta's Dale Murphy and Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt tied ... with 36 homers.
"There's a lot of my personality I hope never impacts the clubhouse." -- Hurdle, in response to how much of his personality has rubbed off on the Pirates' clubhouse
• The Pirates, who as a team took a historic .204 average against Cueto into Tuesday night's National League Wild Card Game, were counting on Byrd as a secret weapon. Byrd was 7-for-12 (.583) lifetime off the righty going into the game.
• PNC Park became the fourth Pittsburgh yard to host an MLB postseason game, following Exposition Park, Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. The only other city able to make the same claim is Philadelphia (Baker Bowl, Shibe Park, Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.