Tag:Andrew McCutchen
Posted on: May 9, 2011 8:43 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 9:03 pm

Pirates reach .500, eye bright future


By Evan Brunell

The Pittsburgh Pirates finishing .500? There's a whole generation of baseball fans that don't understand that concept, but that's exactly where the Bucs find themselves at just over one month into the season.

Now 17-17, Pittsburgh will look to go one game over .500 as they face the Dodgers Monday night. If it can pull that off, it will be the first time since May 29, 2004 that the club was over .500 this late in a season. Unfortunately, 2004's squad finished with 89 losses and the ensuing years saw an even worse decline, so that statistic doesn't mean that the club has made any type of progress.

But when you look at 2004's club against 2011's, it's clear that progress has been made.

Back then, the Pirates weren't as young a club, although many were still under 30 years of age. Some ended up with good seasons, with a 26-year-old Jack Wilson slashing .308/.335/.459 with 41 doubles, which remains his best year to date. Craig Wilson at age 27 cranked 29 homers but never again approached these levels and was out of baseball after 2007. Most of the other hitters with one notable exception in Jason Bay have gone on to vanish or barely cling to relevancy (Jason Kendall and Ty Wigginton).

The pitching side of the ledger had a fantastic year by Oliver Perez and Kris Benson's solid 20-start stint prior to being traded to the Mets hide what was a poor staff that was shored up by a strong bullpen. All told, while the team was relatively young, it was only as good as it was thanks to the performances of five players, four of which never approached 2004 levels again.

It's a different story in 2011, with a much younger club. That's not reflected in the average age of the squads as 2011's 27.9 average age is higher than 2004's 27.45, but the Pirates boast a yonger core with the potential to be among the game's best. The bullpen has been effective to start the year  and the rotation is deeper than 2004's counterparts. That may come as an oddity when Kevin Correia is the ace of the club, but it's no less true. Offensively, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker form a quartet that 2004's club can't hold a candle to.

For the Pirates to sustain their newfound dominance, however, they have to step up their prospect procurement. This is a team that is thin on pitching and saw that partly addressed in last season's draft with the selections of Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, but still has an overall farm that Baseball America ranked 19th last season, largely due to the graduations of the offensive core. Compare that to 2004's ranking of 11, topped by Zach Duke and a host of other pitchers that failed to ascend.

It's no wonder that the 2004 club dipped to 89 losses, and as promising as 2011's club is, Pittsburgh will have to look ahead toward next year as a more realistic chance of breaking the streak of futility. It is difficult to envision Correia continuing to pitch to a 2.91 ERA, and as interesting as Charlie Morton's progress is, a regression has to be expected until (and if) he fixes his control problems, which he took a step forward in doing so in his last start by allowing only one free pass. And while James McDonald can be counted on to improve, it'll be balanced out by Jeff Karstens's probable regression.

For Pittsburgh to have any hope at finishing at .500, it will come from an offense ranked 22nd in runs scored so far. The entire infield plus Tabata and McCutchen are off to quite a slow start. Their expected improvement could offset pitching regression, but the other issue at play is Pittsburgh's division counterparts. Now that Milwaukee has its top three starting pitchers healthy and contributing, so their 14-20 record will turn around in a hurry and that's bad news for the Pirates given the imbalanced schedule that pits Pittsburgh against its NL compatriots for the majority of the games. Thus, even if the offensive regrouping does offset the pitching, it's difficult to envision a .500 record being sustained, especially once injuries hit the pitching staff; the club has virtually no pitching to speak of in Triple-A which is a flaw that will get exposed at some point.

Still, the improvement in the Steel City has to lend a certain amount of optimism to its long-suffering fans, who would glady take any type of improvement even if it it's not an 81-81 record. While even 1997 and 1998's 83 loss-seasons look out of reach, the Pirates appear poised to post the franchise's best record since 2004, and could even go beyond. That will set up quite the storyline for next year, when the Pirates look to avoid 20 straight seasons of finishing under .500.

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PHOTO: Steve Pearce, No. 51 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, celebrates with teammate Neil Walker, No. 18, after Ryan Doumit, No. 41, hit a three-run home run against the Houston Astros during the game on May 8, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Posted on: May 2, 2011 10:28 am

Pepper: Streaking Ethier, struggling arms

By Matt Snyder
Baseball Today: Can Andre Ethier extend his hitting streak to 28 games? Will Madison Bumgarner and Clay Buchholz get back on track tonight? Tom Boorstein of MLB.com joins Lauren Shehadi with the latest.

Padres PAYROLL TO RISE: The San Diego Padres have been one of the teams in the majors unable to re-up with stud veteran players in recent years (Adrian Gonzalez is the latest example, as he was traded with the writing on the wall in terms of an extension), but things may change slightly in the near future. With a new TV deal on the horizon, CEO Jeff Moorad said Sunday a new deal would have a "direct impact" on player salaries, increasing the payroll by as much as 20 percent. (Sign on San Diego )

ON OSWALT: Roy Oswalt is tending to his family in tornado-ravaged Mississippi and won't make it back for his previously scheduled start on Tuesday. Instead, he's likely to rejoin the team Thursday and start Saturday. (MLB.com ) In related matters, ESPN's Buster Olney noted Sunday night that he felt Oswalt -- among players with whom he's ever conversed -- is the most likely to leave baseball whenever he felt it necessary. I know a few years back Oswalt was a guy who had talked more than once about an early retirement. It's an interesting discussion in which there is no right answer, but he simply may be a guy who holds personal matters closer than his profession.

FICKLE FELIZ: Sunday, USA Today reported that Neftali Feliz said he wanted to close for the rest of his career -- and didn't want to deal with trying to stretch out as a starter. Later Sunday, however, he backtracked a bit, saying: "At the end of the year, we'll talk about it again." This shouldn't be a shock, as Feliz is young, emotional and has changed his mind on this specific issue before. (MLB.com )

SEND HIM A VALENTINE: Apparently Jose Reyes owes his ability to switch-hit with effectiveness to former manager Bobby Valentine. Reportedly, before Sunday night's game against the Phillies, Valentine told Mets manager Terry Collins, "in case anyone asks, I made him into a switch-hitter." It sounds a bit pompous on the surface, but it's evidently true, because Reyes backed him up. Sure, Reyes was already a switch-hitter, but he was awful from the left side until Valentine worked with him. “At that time it was still kind of new to me and I was struggling from the left side,” Reyes said. “I didn’t have any confidence, but Bobby helped me a lot. He really worked with me and it made a huge difference for me.” (New York Times )

A NEW CLUBHOUSE RECORD: Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello devoured 14 cheesesteaks during the weekend series in Philadelphia, setting a record for the visitors' clubhouse. Not shockingly, the previous record-holder was the robust Dmitri Young. (ESPN New York )

VERNON'S PICKLE: I didn't catch the go-ahead run in the Angels-Rays game Sunday (I watch as much as I can, but you can only toggle so much effectively -- stuff is bound to get missed), but I repeatedly saw on Twitter and in my Google Reader how Vernon Wells was the hero for his savvy baserunning display. It's interesting, all he really did was get caught in a rundown. (MLB.com ) I've defended Wells in the past against home fans booing him, but this is a bit hard to understand. It would have been lazy and, frankly, stupid if he didn't avoid the initial tag. It's probably just a case of a guy struggling and local writers/fans just wanting to praise him for anything positive. And I won't blame anyone for that.

The Pirates have been maligned for the better part of the last 20 years for not holding any quality players through free agency, coughing most up via trade. Andrew McCutchen has the potential to be a superstar and there is talk he might get a long-term contract. In fact, he said, "I'm willing to be here for my whole career." (Post-Gazette ) He won't be eligible for free agency until 2016, but this is a nice movement to see. I'm no Pirates fan, but it's not good for the game as a whole if any clubs are unable to keep any quality players.

DAY OR NIGHT? "The Decider" in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch poses the question, would you rather attend a baseball game during the day or at night? There are bound to be different answers for different circumstances -- for example, he points out that in St. Louis, humidity during the day in the middle of the summer is just brutal -- so the answers will most certainly vary. For me, being a Cubs fan, I will always choose day over night. There's just something about the sun shining over a 1:20 game that cannot be duplicated at night.

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Posted on: April 26, 2011 12:23 am

Hurdle defends aggressive play

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Clint HurdleClint Hurdle was still defending his player and third base coach a day after Andrew McCutchen was thrown out to end Sunday's loss to the Nationals.

While it was certainly an unconventional play to test Jayson Werth's arm by tagging up on a fly ball down three runs with two out in the ninth, Hurdle said it's exactly what he wants his team to play.

"We're not a conventional team," Hurdle said on Monday according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "That book that everybody reads/ Show me a copy, I'll read it with you. … That book, if you look at the foreword, it says, 'This is a manager's cover-his-backside book. If you stick to this book, you can never be second-guessed. Merry Christmas.' That more or less, is what it's for. My opinion."

I love it.

The book says McCutchen's run was meaningless down three -- and it probably was. But it was a way to get just a little bit closer, to put more pressure on the Nationals. It didn't work, but it was aggressive and used an advantage the Pirates do have -- McCutchen's speed -- to put pressure on the Nationals.

"I expected him to go," Hurdle said. "I would have been more shocked if he hadn't gone. Because one thing I told [third base coach] Nick [Leyva] in spring training is I don't ever want to wonder if he'd have been safe."

That kind of aggressive play is one of the things that have made the Pirates fun to watch this season -- something you haven't been able to say much in the past. The team has some legitimate young talent and can only get better by stretching the limits of their game. Hurdle is empowering them and he's not afraid to take the heat. He took it for Sunday's so-called "blunder" but he'll be responsible when it works the next time.

Playing by the book is boring -- and so often you see silly sacrifice bunts and other such tactics just because it is safe and there's no second-guessing. The Pirates were unlikely to win that game anyway, but Hurdle took a shot. And that's what makes this game great.

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Posted on: April 20, 2011 5:36 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 5:38 pm

McCutchen takes leave of absence from Pirates

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Andrew McCutchenPirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has been granted a leave of absence from the Pirates, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

The Pirates have said McCutchen has gone home to deal with a personal matter, but would shed no more light on his situation or even how long he may be gone.

"That's really all we're going to share right now, out of respect to his privacy," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Jose Tabata will replace McCutchen in center field and Matt Diaz will start in left. Pittsburgh has games tonight and tomorrow night at Florida before returning to Pittsburgh for a series against the Nationals on Friday.

McCutchen is hitting .230/.356/.426 with three home runs this season. He was 0 for 4 in a 6-0 loss to the Marlins last night.

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Posted on: April 17, 2011 5:58 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 6:05 pm

McCutchen gets back on track with 3-hit day

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Andrew McCutchen CINCINNATI -- Sitting on the couch in the visitor's clubhouse, Andrew McCutchen watched himself reach out and send a Logan Ondrusek pitch into center field, scoring the eventual game-winning run in the Pirates' 7-6 victory over the Reds on Sunday.

Behind him, Pittsburgh outfielder Matt Diaz asked him, "Who is that kid?"

"I don't know -- just got called up today," McCutchen deadpanned.

The player on the field Sunday looked nothing like the one that had just three hits in his previous eight games and was hitting .204. The guy wearing No. 22 at Great American Ball Park on Sunday couldn't make an out at the plate (he did get caught stealing), finishing 3 for 3 with two walks and led off the game with his third home run of the season before knocking in the winning run in the eighth inning and corralling the final out for a Pirate victory.

"It was just a mater of time," McCutchen said. "All I could do is laugh about it, because that's not me, it's not what I do. All I could do is laugh, because I knew it was going to turn around eventually and now it's starting to turn around and I feel good and we'll go from here."

In the early season rollercoaster of averaging stats, Sunday's small sample sized helped McCutchen raise his batting averaged .046 points -- "I wish you could do that throughout the season, it'd be nice," he said.

The way math works, though, it can be just as devastating. McCutchen knows that, hitting .389/.500/.833 after his first five games and .204/.328/.367 after 13 games. After the 14th, he was back to .250/.381/.462.

"Time will tell, but it was an awful good day for him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's been working hard and battling and believing in himself. Everything starts with a thought, no matter how bad the day, you always try to remember in this game you're never as good as you think you are and you're never as bad as you think you are, and this kid's a good player."

McCutchen led off the game with a homer off of Reds starter Edinson Volquez and Jose Tabata then followed with another homer on the next pitch, marking just the third time in Pittsburgh history that Pirate batters have hit back-to-back homers to start a game.

"I smacked his hand, maybe that helped," McCutchen said. "Maybe it was electric energy or something."

That's exactly what McCutchen is for this Pirates team. He's electric -- if he's on, the team can be on.

The Pirates won three of their first five during his hot start, while they struggled when he saw his average drop from .389 to .196. In the team's six wins, he's hitting .320 with a .433 on-base percentage. The team has also won all three games in which he's homered. In a recent eight-game stretch that saw six losses, McCutchen was hitting just .097/.222/.097.

That leadoff home run on Sunday was just the burst of energy the Pirates needed, adding three more runs in the opening frame.

"A home run, a hit or getting on base with a  walk, whatever -- if I can start the game off by helping the team out by not making an out, it definitely makes me feel good about the coming at-bats," McCutchen said.

It also makes his team feel good about their chances.

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Posted on: April 17, 2011 1:52 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:36 am

Another bad first for Volquez

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Edinson Volquez For just the third time in the 130 years of Pittsburgh baseball history, the Pirates (and Alleghenys) led off a game with back-to-back home runs on Sunday. It was the second time this season Edinson Volquez has allowed back-to-back homers to lead off a game.

Sunday it was Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata who went back-to-back. Volquez also gave up back-to-back shots to Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez of the Brewers on opening day.

So far this season Volquez has allowed 13 first-inning runs and the Reds are 3-0 in games he's started. Sunday Volquez not only allowed the two home runs, but also gave up a double and walked three, allowing four runs as the Pirates batted around. Volquez then settled down, holding the PIrates without a run in their next four innings, until exiting following a Garrett Jones homer and a walk to Ronny Cedeno in the fifth. Reliever Jordan Smith allowed a double to pinch hitter John Bowker to score the run and close the book on Volquez. His final line was 5 2/3 innings, five hits, six runs (all earned), six walks and six strikeouts. He earned a no-decision in the Reds' 7-6 loss to the Pirates.

Volquez's first-inning ERA is 29.25 this season, while it's just 1.93 in every other inning.

The Reds' 27-year-old right-hander is 2-0 so far this season, winning his last two outings. Here's what he's done in the first inning of his four starts this season:

• March 31, 7-6 Reds victory over Milwaukee: 3 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk
• April 6, 12-4 victory over Houston: 4 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks
• April 11, 3-2 victory over San Diego: 2 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 hit batter
• April 17, 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh: 4 runs, 3 hits, 3 walks

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Posted on: April 17, 2011 12:30 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 12:10 pm

Pepper: Dangerous game for fans, too

Jose Salazar

By C. Trent Rosecrans

When I went to Class A game the other day, I sat in the front row just to film from that angle and I was shocked at just how close I was sitting -- and how little the fans around me were paying attention.

Of course, it's worse at the minor-league level and in spring training where the stadiums are smaller, but it's still dangerous at the big-league level. Last night in Los Angeles, a fan at the Dodgers game was hit by a foul ball from Matt Holliday and carried off on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. [Associated Press ]

This spring, of course, Braves minor league manager Luis Salazar was struck in the face by a foul ball and lost an eye.

On Friday, Salazar returned to manage the Lynchburg Hillcats.

This weekend, it was a feel-good story to see Salazar back in uniform, but it was so close to being different. [Lynchburg News Advance ]

STRANGE BALK -- Take a minute to watch this -- last night Justin Verlander tried to pick off Daric Barton at first, but caught a cleat in the dirt, so instead of making a bad throw to first, he threw home and hit David DeJesus. Home plate umpire John Hirschbeck ruled it a balk, awarding Barton second base. DeJesus later walked. Verlander said afterward, even he laughed at how it looked. [MLB.com ]

BRADEN LEAVES EARLY -- A's starter Dallas Braden left Saturday's game with shoulder stiffness after five innings. There's no update yet, but it could be bad news for the A's. [San Francisco Chronicle ]

-- As teams honored Jackie Robinson this weekend, the Mets' Willie Harris finds the lack of African-Americans in the game "sad." Only 9.1 percent of major leaguers on opening day 2010 were African-American, while 20 percent were in 1995. Harris said he doesn't think MLB markets its top African-American stars, such as Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford and CC Sabathia, well enough. [New York Daily News

Rockies STARTER FALLS - - For the first time this season, a Rockies starter picked up a loss in the game. Jason Hamel was the first Rockies starter to earn an L, falling 8-3 to the Cubs and ending the Rockies' seven-game winning streak. [Associated Press ]

--The other day White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he has the league's best bullpen, despite his relievers blowing six saves and converting just one. On Saturday, he said he knows he has a good defensive team, despite its 15 errors this season, 13 in the last 10 games. [Chicago Tribune ]
SPEAKING OF -- The A's lead the majors with 17 errors, including one more on Saturday. First baseman Daric Barton -- widely viewed as one of the best defensive first basemen in the game -- is tied for the team-lead with three errors. Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff has three, as well. [MLB.com ]

EARNING HIS KEEP -- Could this be the year Alfonso Soriano lives up to his promise and salary? Soriano leads the Cubs with five home runs and 12 RBI. [Chicago Tribune ]

NO LEFTY -- The Dodgers don't have a left-handed reliever in their bullpen after Hong-Chih Kuo was place don the disabled list and replaced on the roster by right-hander Ramon Troncoso. [Los Angeles Times ]

ROYAL PEN -- One of the reasons the Royals are leading in the American League Central is their bullpen, well, almost all of their bullpen. In a reversal of expectations, only closer Joakim Soria, one of the best closers in baseball the last couple of years, has struggled. Manager Ned Yost said his closer is just "human" and should be fine. Still, the likes of Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow have impressed. [Kansas City Star ]

NEW PITCH -- Giants closer Brian Wilson is playing coy about a new pitch in his arsenal. Wilson, who will talk about most subjects, isn't discussing a new pitch he's throwing to right-handed batters. It may be a two-seam fastball, a cutter or even a screwball. [San Jose Mercury News ]

ATTENDANCE WOES -- This month six teams have set records for their lowest attendance since their current park opened -- the Braves, Indians, Mariners, Cardinals, Yankees and Twins. Overall attendance is down just two percent this year, which is less than I expected. [USA Today ]

HOW LOW CAN IT GO? -- Seattle is being hit particularly hard at the turnstiles. [Seattle Times ]

UBIQUITOUS OBLUQUE -- I missed this earlier this week, but heard Tim McCarver bring it up during yesterday's Mets-Braves games -- Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times wrote a great article about the oblique injury, noting 14 players had gone on the DL this year with an oblique injury. Also, before MRI technology improved to its current point, the injury had been called rib cage or abdominal injuries, the diagnosis is just better nowadays.

BIG DRAFT -- What if you had to pick from Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton, Ricky Romero, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Mike Pelfrey, Wade Townsend, Chris Volstad, John Mayberry Jr., Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus or Clay Buchholz? The 2005 draft offered those choices. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ]

WRIGLEY GRIDIRON -- The Cubs and Northwestern want to continue playing football games at Wrigley Field, despite the challenges they faced this season. In the end, money wins. [Chicago Tribune ]

TUCSON HOME -- Padres owner Jeff Moorad said Tucson will be the Triple-A home for the Padres for at least another year and could be an option if the team isn't able to get funding for a park in Escondido, Calif. [Arizona Daily Star ]

A DIFFERENT MANNY -- Manny Ramirez changed when he went to Boston. [Akron Beacon-Journal ]

HOT DOGGIN' -- A look at the best and craziest hot dogs at ballparks this season. I'm thinking about getting that Meat Lovers Dog at Great American Ball Park later today. I'll take pictures. In the name of "journalism" of course. I'm also curious about the Bahn Mi Dog at Nationals Stadium and [SeriousEats.com ]

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Posted on: April 6, 2011 6:24 pm
Edited on: April 6, 2011 6:27 pm

Pirates impressive early on

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Pirates are better than you think.

Is Pittsburgh going to challenge for the NL Central crown? No. Are they going to break their streak of losing seasons? Probably not. But they they will be better this season than they have been in many years and in the next couple of seasons, winning baseball in the Steel City may become a reality.

Pittsburgh has taken two of three from the Cardinals and Cubs to start the season, beating St. Louis 3-1 on Wednesday.

The main reason the Pirates are sitting at 4-2 is they have a legit top of their lineup.

Pittsburgh's top four hitters -- Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Lyle Overbay -- are hitting a combined .356/.434/.621 in the team's first games. Walker and McCutchen each have a pair of homers, with Overbay adding another.

That's not a pace the team can sustain, but McCutchen is on the edge of stardom, while Walker and Tabata are good, emerging players. Overbay is the type of player with better results than reputation. A career .274/.358/.447 hitter, he's unlikely to continue hitting .304/..385/.522, but shouldn't fall too far.

Walker's performance as a rookie last season was overshadowed by an historic first-year class, but he still put up a very good season, hitting .296/.349/.462 with 12 home runs in 110 games for his hometown team.  Tabata's prospect status took a hit in the last couple of years, but he too put up solid rookie numbers in 2010, hitting .299/.346/.400 in 102 games.

Add in Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones, and there's the making of an effective offense.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates are hitting .271/.333/.409 with six home runs. With that, the Pirates' starters have a 2.52 ERA through six games. That's unlikely to continue in a rotation of Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Charlie Morton and Ross Ohlendorf they've pitched well, with Correia picking up two wins so far this season and have made the Pirates anything but a pushover early.

Joel Hanrahan has been the rare closer in the big leagues to convert all of his save chances, recording the save in all four of the PIrates' wins this season.

It should also be noted that all six games have been on the road, where Pittsburgh had an MLB-worst 17-64 record a year ago.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com