After blasting his 14th home run of the season on Wednesday, Andrew McCutchen continues to impress in 2012, while putting his name in conversations among the best center fielders in the game right now.
“Just not trying to do too much, staying within myself,” McCutchen said of his approach. “Just swinging at pitches and hitting them. I’m making good contact and hitting them. Learning each at-bat, learning each game. Just trying to take it game by game.”
McCutchen proved to be human on Thursday in the Pirates 5-4 win against Philadelphia going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts, but it marked just the second time in his past 10 games he didn’t pick up at least one hit. The 25-year-old has gone 16-for-40 (.400) with three homers over his past 10 games, and has hits in 5 of last 9 at bats with runners in scoring position.
“He’s made a lot of progress from this year from where he was last year,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “You saw the challenges that he experienced last year from the half of the season throughout the second half of the season when he probably tried to grab the rest of the lineup and throw it on his back and a game changing swing every at-bat. He lost the average. He lost the focus maybe a little bit on what he needs to do. And not for any other reason than wanting for us to do well, for his team to do well.”
“I think it was a great lesson learned. I think that’s one characteristic and trait that Andrew has — he learns lessons pretty well. He knew coming into the season what he needed to work on. He spent a lot of the season working on specific things. He came up with a new stance, a little open stance. He focused on driving the ball to the deepest part of the park. Base running, outfield play, all of it — he’s a better player this year then he was last [year].”
Last season, McCutchen posted a .291/.390/.505 line prior in the first half of the season in which he was named to the National League All-Star team. He connected for 14 home runs and 15 stolen bases, before struggling in the second half of the season. The Pirates, too, struggled. They went from the top of the National League Central as late into the season as July 25, to finishing the season 24 games back.
McCutchen admitted that he tried to do too much in the second half, but Hurdle believes that learning experience can help McCutchen this season.
“Time will tell,” Hurdle said. “I think we’re all prepared for our future if we listen and pay attention to our past. All of us. And that’s what we’re going to find out with these ball players. Did they pay attention to the past? I believe they have. And I do believe it will make a difference moving forward. I’m optimistic. I believe in a lot of things that a lot of people don’t believe in. I’m not a skeptic. My job is to push him forward and I’m dependent upon him to take those lessons learned and put them in play in the second half of the season.”
The hot stick of McCutchen this season carried the club for the majority of the first two months. But in June, the team started to click on all cylinders. They’ve hit for a team .262 average in the month of June, which is eighth-best in the National League. The Pirates yesterday belted out a five run first inning off the Phillies Kyle Kendrick. It marked he first time Pittsburgh has driven in five to start a game since May 27, 2007 in Cincinnati.
“It’s what I expected,” McCutchen said of the offense picking up. “Different guys are coming through. We’re getting on base, getting big hits. It’s what we’re doing right now. Hopefully we can continue it and keep the momentum going.”
McCutchen continues to post numbers that could finish him with a 30-30 season. The center fielder has hit all 14 of his homers since May 8. That’s tied for the most in the National League along with Alfonso Soriano and fifth most in the Majors in that time. McCutchen has also swiped 14 bags so far this season.
“He’s working his way up,” Hurdle said. “Just the whole package. Andrew is moving himself up closer to being that type of player. We saw what he was capable of last season. The consistency at the plate is much more pronounced this year. I do think the power is going to continue to play out.”
“It’s just been fun to watch his growth. He’s definitely got a chance to write his own story here. And I think the great part about it is he’s not concerned with writing a story. Just takes the game one day at a time and really has a great passion for it.”