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McClendon foresees an uncertain future



Published: Sat, August 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Bucs have not picked up his option to manage in 2006.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Manager Lloyd McClendon is convinced the Pittsburgh Pirates' future is already here. He just hopes to be part of it.

McClendon said Friday he won't manage the rest of the season to try to save his job, but rather to make the Pirates' growing core of young players better.

After starting the season with no rookies, the Pirates are carrying five, including unbeaten left-hander Zach Duke, and 11 players with two or fewer full seasons in the majors, counting injured pitcher Oliver Perez and second baseman Jose Castillo.

Among them is 2004 NL rookie of the year Jason Bay, who is having another good season with a .302 average, 24 homers and 72 RBIs.

September gameplan

The rookies are doing more than sitting and learning. McClendon has started as many as four in a game, and he intends on playing center fielder Chris Duffy, first baseman Brad Eldred, catcher Ryan Doumit and outfielder Nate McLouth regularly or close to it the rest of the season.

"We need to find out about these players and the only way to find out is to play them, and try to win as many games as we possibly can in the process," McClendon said.

"We don't know if Ryan Doumit can handle the catching load at this level," McClendon said. "Can Eldred play every day and hit major league pitching? Is Duffy the guy in center field? Can McLouth play outfield at this level? We've got to find out about all these guys."

On the bubble

What McClendon also doesn't know is whether he'll be back in 2006. The Pirates have an option on him but, until this season, they had never brought back a manager coming off four consecutive losing seasons.

McClendon is closing in on his fifth, and the franchise's 13th in a row since 1992 -- three short of the major league record.

About the time the Pirates reached .500 on June 11, McClendon and general manager Dave Littlefield began talking about 2006. However, the Pirates then lost 44 of 68 games.

"If I'm back, I'm back, if I'm not, I'm not. I think everybody knows how I feel about this organization, the fact I want to be here and I want to stay here," said McClendon, a former Pirates outfielder and hitting coach. "I don't have control over that.

"I do have control over making sure that these guys are ready to perform every day, and I can't get consumed with that other stuff," McClendon said.

Considerable potential

Each rookie has shown considerable potential, excluding McLouth, who had played in only 11 games before Friday.

Duffy has hit well about .300 during his six weeks in the majors and already is one of the NL's better defensive outfielders.

The 270-pound Eldred recently had five homers in an eight-game stretch, all of them soaring drives that carried well out of the park.

And Duke is having the best rookie season by a Pirates pitcher since Don Robinson went 14-6 in 1978, going 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 10 starts, although he will miss today's scheduled start because of a sprained ankle.

With the rookies all showing they can play, McClendon is certain that if fans come back at this time next season, they'll see nearly the same club on the field as they do now.

"I think this is the start. I really think this team, if we can acquire a couple of pieces and pick up some pitching, is going to do a lot of damage in this league. You can see it, you can see the core group and the chemistry that exists in the locker room.

"These guys here now aren't stopgap players, they're the future, and it's nice to see."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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