Pirates Notebook: McCutchen, Walker Power Bucs to Strong First Half Finish
PITTSBURGH, PA — When Andrew McCutchen steps to the plate, more often than not, he does something special. In the final game before the All-Star break, McCutchen put on a display of why he’s worthy of National League MVP conversations.
After Neil Walker doubled off San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum with one-out in the first inning, McCutchen took a 3-2 pitch from the right-hander that he launched for his 17th home run of the season.
McCutchen went on to pick up two more hits — his final hit being his second long ball of the game. The center fielder crushed the first pitch into the right-center field seats for No. 18 on the year.
Although McCutchen will partake in the home run derby on Monday representing the National League, the 25-year-old isn’t considered to be a long ball hitter. Last season, McCutchen connected for 23 home runs, and he is just five shy at the mid-way point to that total.
McCutchen was projected to be a 20-25 home run hitter, but is looking like he could surpass that total this year.
“Maybe the projection was off,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Just because they said projected to hit 15 or 20, where do we sell out to that? Too many times we put labels and top people off before they get an opportunity to play. That was probably before his first Major League game or his first Major League season was completed. I’ve seen many hitters hit better when they get to the Major Leagues. More often than not, all of them show more power when they get to Major Leagues than they do in the Minor Leagues.”
“He’s learned himself very well. He’s learned I think this year especially, where his strengths are. That’s the focus and set up to right-center field then just react to the pitch. Today, you got to see him stay out there a couple times. We’ve seen it before.”
“You don’t know what you can be. I don’t know what I could do, what I was capable of,” McCutchen said of the projections. “Just going out and playing…I’m not going up every at-bat and trying to hit home runs, I’m just trying to put swings on balls. When I do that, depending on where the pitch is, depending on my swing, some balls go out.”
McCutchen became the first Pirate in team history with a .362 average and 60 RBI before the All-Star Break.
Walker Has Five Hit Game
Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a double in the first inning. But the second baseman didn’t stop there. Walker went 5-for-5 at the plate, driving in a pair off the Giants arms.
Walker finished just a triple shy of the cycle after hitting No. 6 of the season in the third inning. Walker took a 1-0 pitch from Lincecum into the bushes in center field. It marked his first five hit game since July 20, 2010 and the first by a Bucco this season.
“I feel good at the plate,” Walker said. “And I’m happy about that. July is usually a good month for me, when the weather gets hot, I start to feel a lot better.”
Walker has gone 25-57 with nine doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI over the past two weeks and credits keeping things simpler at the plate for the spark.
“Just stepping in the box and having confidence,” Walker said. “When I can get back into the middle of the field, it simplifies things. It’s easier said than done because I tried to do it for a good two months early on in the season. I battled with it. I got to a point where I stepped into the box and my focus stopped being on mechanics, or this and that, what he’s trying to throw and really just started looking over the heart of the plate and start driving the ball. Days like today can happen. Certainly five hits is something that comes around very rarely and I’m honestly very excited about it.”
But it wasn’t just the bats of Walker and McCutchen that were hot. The club combined for 13 runs on 17 hits to put them a season-high 11 games over .500. They head into the All-Star break in sole possession in the National League Central and with a 48-37 record.
“I can’t really think of a better way to go into the All-Star break than with a 6-1 home stand,” Walker said. “It feels different this year. It feels more real.”
“Offensively we showed up very good,” Hurdle said. “Had good at-bats, competed well in the batters box, ran the bases well. Just a nice finish…We’ve worked hard to where we are. We’ve earned our way so far. We’ve got 11 games in the bank. We’ll start off 0-0 in the second half. I want us to stay focused forward. We will continue to knock them down one game at a time.”
McGehee Exits With Groin Strain
Casey McGehee exited the Pirates’ 13-2 win early on Sunday after being diagnosed with a mild left groin strain. In the sixth inning, McGehee ripped what would have been extra-bases into the North Side Notch which scored a pair, but the infielder stopped at first base. After Hurdle and the trainers looked at him on the field, he was removed from the game and replaced by pinch-runner Gorkys Hernandez.
McGehee went 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and a run.
Burnett Embracing Pittsburgh
A.J. Burnett bounced back in a big way on Sunday holding the Giants to just two runs on four hits over 6.1 innings. The right-hander was coming off a rough outing his last trip to the mound where he allowed six runs over five-plus innings.
On Sunday, Burnett was impressive.
Burnett allowed a two-out hit in the first inning — which fell into shallow left field after a failed miscommunication between Drew Sutton and Clint Barmes — and a walk. But from there, Burnett retired 13 straight batters until he gave up just his second hit of the game to leadoff the sixth frame.
After tossing six scoreless innings, the Giants were finally able to hit the right-hander in the seventh. Buster Posey led off the inning with a double to right field, and Pablo Sandoval took a 3-2 pitch to center field for a home run. Burnett retired his next batter, but followed with a full count walk. Hurdle went to Brad Lincoln from the bullpen who retired his next two batters and whiffed Schierholtz to end it. Burnett walked off the mound to loud cheers and a standing ovation, and gave the crowd a fist pump.
“I was so mad about that homer, then you instantly forget about it. It’s great,” Burnett said of the crowd. “They’ve accepted me from the get-go.”
“I’m just having a good time with these guys. Playing for a city that’s expecting us to win. I came over here and I wanted to be a part of something special. And we’re building something special.”
Burnett even picked up a base hit in clutch fashion in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded, Burnett helped out his own cause by ripping a single up the middle to plate his 10th career RBI, putting the Pirates up 4-0. It was the first time since August 1, 2005 when he pitched for the Florida Marlins that he picked up an RBI.
Overall, Burnett allowed two runs on four hits over 6.1 innings. He walked two and struck out five while throwing 104 pitches, 64 for strikes.
“I’m having a good time,” Burnett said. “It’s fun to be a part of. I’m proud to be able to take the mound for these guys.”
“We were good all over the board today,” Hurdle said. “A.J. was very effective, very efficient, very strong. We needed a strong outing. He wanted to bounce back from his outing at home and he did that.”
Lincoln followed Burnett in relief and tossed 2.2 perfect innings with two strikeouts.