April 12, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) Clint Hurdle can't wait to wake up in his own bed.

The Pittsburgh Pirates manager has been away for nearly three months, leaving on Jan. 15 for the team's training facilities in Florida before starting a season of high expectations last week with a taxing six-game road trip through Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

The familiar jitters will almost certainly pop up when Hurdle heads to his office at PNC Park on Monday when the Pirates host Detroit in their home opener.

There will be plenty of pomp and a dash of circumstance. The one thing Hurdle won't busy his mind with: worrying about his starting pitcher.

When the Pirates set their rotation to start 2015, they did it with the first game at their picturesque home park by the Allegheny River in mind.

Few players embody the team's recent renaissance more than Gerrit Cole, a homegrown former first-round pick whose tenacity on the mound and even at the plate has already give him a cultish following. And Cole will get the ball when Pittsburgh plays an American League team in its home opener for the first time.

''Cole is the guy that I feel has an opportunity to give him another chip to move forward with,'' Hurdle said.

Cole is 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA in 23 starts at PNC Park. Pittsburgh was 9-2 in games Cole started at home last season, one of the major reasons the club was able to rally from a slow start to clinch a second straight wild-card berth.

Then again, walking out of PNC Park at the end of a day's work with a win has become routine for the Pirates. Pittsburgh is 101-61 at home over the past two years.

Having a star such as perennial MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen helps. So does a steady bullpen. A steady stream of packed houses hasn't hurt either. The Pirates had a team-record 2.44 million people walk through the turnstiles last season.

''Going to a place where the fans are going crazy for you is awesome,'' reliever Jared Hughes said. ''That changes everything and it does create a home-field advantage. I believe that, truly. So that part of it, we can't wait to get back home where the fans are rooting for us, not against us.''

Pittsburgh could use a boost after a lackluster opening week. The Pirates needed a blowout 10-2 win over Milwaukee on Sunday to avoid a 1-5 start.

They hopped on a plane shortly afterward heading for a place some of the players haven't seen since they walked out of the clubhouse last October following a wild-card loss to San Francisco.

''It's tough, but at the same time, we all live in different places across the country, right? So, even when we're home, we're still kind of used to living in suitcases and on the road,'' Hughes said.

Maybe, but the road ends - at least for awhile - on Monday.

''I feel like we've been on the road for a long time,'' Jordy Mercer said. ''So we're definitely anxious to get back home, play in front of our own fans.''


Freelance writer Tom Kertscher in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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