Andrew McCutchen Shows He’s Getting to a Better Spot With Walk Off Homer

PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen’s walk-off home in the bottom of the ninth inning run to give the Pirates a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at PNC Park on Monday was impressive.

It was impressive because it gave the Pirates a win in a game they had so nearly let slip away with two Arizona runs in the top of the inning. It was impressive because Arizona reliever Archie Bradley has been superb this season, coming in with 1.23 ERA.

But more than anything it was impressive because it was an outside pitch and McCutchen drove the ball to right field.

McCutchen hasn’t always been a pull hitter. His career spray chart shows a pretty balanced attack, especially when it comes to balls hit in the air to the outfield.

Andrew McCutchen career hits spray chart. (Brooks Baseball)

But this season, it’s been dramatically different, with the vast majority of his contact coming to the left side of the field.

Andrew McCutchen 2017 heat map. (Baseball Savant)

That’s been a problem, because the pitches that McCutchen has been hitting have been for the most part middle-outside.

Andrew McCutchen 2017 balls in play by pitch location. (Baseball Savant)

When a hitter attempts to pull a ball pitched to the outside, it results in the hitter rolling the ball over. That’s happened a lot to McCutchen this season, especially compared with 2016. Remember that 2016 was a career-low for him, which makes the decline in outcomes to this season even more troubling.

But McCutchen feels like he’s on to a fix to that issue. He feels that he’s been trying to pull the ball too much and over-rotating his upper half. In order to drive a ball pitched outside, he needs to stay with the pitch and take it to the opposite field.

That’s what he got from Bradley in the ninth inning Monday, and that’s what he did with it, putting it into the seats above the Clemente Wall.

McCutchen said the fact that he was able to drive that ball given where it was pitched is a sign that he’s making some progress in fixing what’s been ailing him.

“For me to be in a spot and a position where I get a fastball out over the plate and I can drive it out to right field, that shows that I’m in a good spot, because a week ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said. “I’m in a better spot that I was a week ago. I’m in a better spot than I was yesterday. We’ll continue to just keep working in that fashion. Hopefully, it can get hot really soon.”

In order to come up with the problem and the plan for fixing it, McCutchen was given two days off in Atlanta last week and was moved to No. 6 in the batting order. He said that first gave him the time needed to go put the work in. In addition to the time spent on the off days in Atlanta, he’s regularly been taking extra batting practice early in the day.

“I just got to unwind and be able to work as opposed to getting up in the morning, getting to the field, getting some work in the cage and taking what you’re doing in the cage to the game,” he said. “I haven’t been where I’ve needed to be at, so I haven’t had much time to do what I needed to do. … Last year I said the time off in Atlanta, that didn’t do anything for me. This time it did. Being able to have those couple days did help me. I don’t know what it is about Atlanta. I’m feeling good, feeling better and having more consistent at-bats.”

Hurdle wasn’t ready to call McCutchen’s swing cured at this point, but he does think the home run — combined with the fact that he’s also seen his batting average climb to .225 this week — as a positive sign.

“It’s a good swing on a pitch that’s out there,” Hurdle said. “It’s good to see. We’ll keep penciling him in and let him get his swings. Good things are happening.”

INJURY WOES RETURN

Coming into Monday, it looked like the Pirates were nearing full health. Gregory Polanco was on a tear since returning from the disabled list.

Antonio Bastardo, Josh Lindblom and Jameson Taillon had already begun rehab assignments and seem ready to re-join the team sooner rather than later.

That all unraveled over the course of two innings Monday. In the sixth inning, Polanco injured his ankle by crashing into the low railing in right that separates the playing field from the crowd. Chris Stewart tweaked a muscle in his leg stretching his two-run hit into a triple in the seventh.

Polanco said he has a sprained right ankle and while x-rays were negative, he was in a walking boot after the game and was on his way to see a doctor. Stewart was more positive, with preliminary tests showing no damage, but he cautioned that he would still require more testing.

It’s been a series of frustrations on the injury front for the Pirates season, and Polanco has now been hurt four separate times.

“I just hit the wall straight with my right foot. Just straight into the wall,” Polanco said. “I was running full speed and that hall doesn’t help because it’s so low you don’t realize how far you are from then wall. … It’s hard. Everything happens for a reason. I left everything in God’s hands.”

NOTES

Trevor Williams pitched six innings of one-run ball, which Hurdle called his best start of the season. … Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio each pitched scoreless innings. … Jordy Mercer also tripled and scored on Josh Bell’s sacrifice fly.

  • well he couldn’t have gotten much worse…..

  • Coming off his 2016 season, I was surprised he decided to play in the WBC rather than get into camp and get himself righted for the season. He talks about getting in his work when they sat him down. Maybe he should have done that in March instead of May.

  • Interesting who PBC call’s up for Polanco. If they think Meadows is not ready maybe trade for a bat. If Stewart is day to day they need Diaz so one of the two weak hitting gloves get sent back down.

  • It’s amazing a smart guy like Cutch, and a supposedly good coaching staff, didn’t figure this out last year. I did. It’s not rocket science.

    With two strikes, hit to the opposite field. In a DP situation, hit to the opposite field. Hit the ball when it’s pitched.

    But they’re more interested in “barrelling up”. This is little league stuff.

    • Not every player is able to go the other way, Cutch obviously couldn’t for an extended period of time and he couldn’t figure out why, despite the adjustments he might have made.

      • That is downright false. Its a mindset nothing else.

        • This is not true.

          There’s a fundamental mechanical difference in a swing that produces opposite field contact vs a swing the produces pull contact.

          • Alan Saunders
            May 30, 2017 1:10 pm

            His quote last week about it was something like it’s easier said than done.

            • Especially when you factor what’s likely some natural reduction in bat speed. Those inside fastballs to keep him honest are doing the job.

          • Hitters change swing mechanics quite often from the time they are drafted until the time they retire. It all starts with mindset.

    • Agree wholeheartedly with your first paragraph, especially the use of the word “supposedly”. Not sure on the second, but I can agree with hitting the ball where its pitched.

      “Barreling up” is just another way of saying hitting it square, on the sweet spot, etc. On the HR he barreled it, hit it square, right on the sweet spot of the bat, and he did so by hitting the ball where it was pitched. He did not “roll it over” and hit a weak GB to the left by trying to pull an outside pitch.

    • Gw, knowing what’s wrong is a heck of a lot easier than actually changing it.

      • Agree 100% it’s not like he’s got little Leaguers pitching to him.

    • Barrelling up is not synonymous with pulling the ball…..you know that right? In fact you are more likely to barrel up a pitch by hitting it dead center or opposite field than by pulling it.

  • Darkstone42
    May 30, 2017 12:25 am

    Cutch has looked a lot better since being sat. Since he actually did work on a swing mechanics adjustment, it’s possible this is real, too. I don’t like arbitrary end points, but it’s not arbitrary if an actual change was made.

    If he finds old form–and hitting the ball with authority to right field is, indeed, old form–the Pirates will have a decent shot this year. Good Cutch is an impact player. And they’ll get Taillon back soon-ish, hopefully Polanco won’t be on the shelf for long, and Marte will return at some point, too.

    On the other hand, Watson needs to be a lot better than he has been if they’re going to contend.

    • What about switching Watson and Rivero sooner than later

      • Darkstone42
        May 30, 2017 3:01 am

        No way. Rivero needs to stay in his role of coming in for the highest leverage, diciest situations in the game. Today, Rivero faced the heart of the DBacks’ lineup in the 8th so Watson could have the bottom. I much prefer our chances doing that over locking Rivero into the ninth inning and nowhere else.

        • Bill Harvey
          May 30, 2017 5:42 am

          Personally, I like Nicasio in the 9th. I think the Hudson fiasco is killing all plans, since he was signed in the belief he would be taking over for Watson.

        • For what it’s worth, Watson has by far the highest leverage index of all relievers. Including Felipe Rivero.

          Rivero has not been used in the most important situations thus far.

          • Good point, better not to assume performance outside of the 9th will continue in a closers role until it’s demonstrated.

    • Maybe we should Deal Marte to a team with a similar value player coming back that’s not a contender(maybe one less year control) so that if we did contend, we don’t have a black hole come playoff time.

      • pierogieking
        May 30, 2017 11:39 am

        It’s possible Meadows could fill the Marte hole if they make the playoffs.

        • There is no projection which has Meadows being anywhere near the player Marte is by the time the 17 playoffs start

  • piraterican21
    May 29, 2017 11:47 pm

    Hope that better spot is with another team! Nice write up, can’t help myself sometimes.

    • Poor Cutch it’s what have you done for me lately. I still have faith in his ability. This team needs his bat now more than ever.

      • No…..they needed it last year. This year is irrelevant. The only reason they need it now is to get a decent return for him via trade.

        • michael schalke
          May 30, 2017 10:41 am

          There still is an opportunity this year considering the division we are in. A long shot but still an opportunity especially with 22 playing better and Marte coming back.

          • No, because Cutch will be traded. How he performs at this point is only relevant for his trade value. Everyone knows it, including him

      • piraterican21
        May 30, 2017 11:32 am

        Poor cutch making millions and not producing like it. Best case scenario, heat up, shit even go back to been old cutch and bring back a good return. That was the plan all along, it was never a secret unless you refused to believe.

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