Early season polished up McCutchen
June 24, 2009


PITTSBURGH - The Pirates took their share of heat for not taking Andrew McCutchen north at the end of spring training.

The 22-year-old outfielder was the phenom of spring training and many felt the Pirates should have picked him as the starting left fielder over Nyjer Morgan. Yet, the Pirates sent McCutchen back to Class AAA Indianapolis, where he spent all of last season.

McCutchen has gotten off to a great start in his major-league career. He is hitting .325 with one home run, 14 RBIs and three stolen bases in 18 games after going 1-for-5 with an RBI in a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.

That would seem to leave the impression McCutchen would have helped the Pirates from the beginning of the season. However, manager John Russell believes McCutchen has adjusted rapidly to the major leagues because of spending two extra months in the minor leagues.

"Would have he been able to have held his own if we had started him out in the big leagues this year? Probably," Russell said. "I'm not sure he would have played as well as he has now, though, without getting that extra experience in the minor leagues. We gave him a list of things to work on and he's improved in every category."

The Pirates wanted McCutchen to work on bunting and pitch selection while also taking better routes to fly balls.

"He's definitely a more polished player," Russell said. "One of the great things about him is that he is very coachable. He's already a very talented player, but he wants to get better. He works hard, pays attention and asks a lot of questions."

McCutchen extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a ninth-inning RBI single with two outs that drew the Pirates within 5-4. That is the longest streak by a rookie in the major leagues this season.

McCutchen had five triples in his first 17 games. The only player to reach that mark faster since baseball's integrated era began in 1947 was Philadelphia's Jeff Stone, who did it in 16 games in the 1983 and 1984 seasons.

McCutchen also had tripled in three straight games going into Tuesday, making him only the second rookie in the last 25 years to do that besides Luke Scott with Houston in 2006. The last Pirates rookie to triple in three consecutive games was Bob Elliott in 1940.

RIVALRY UPDATE: PNC Park and the Indians' Progressive Field are just 134 miles apart. However, the teams are playing for the first time since 2006, and Major League Baseball has been reluctant to schedule the Pirates and Indians more frequently.

Pirates president Frank Coonelly has lobbied MLB to have the Pirates and Indians meet on a yearly basis. To this point, that hasn't happened.

"I'd love to see this become a yearly rivalry," Russell said. "The cities are so close together and there is always so much excitement when the Steelers and Browns play in football. I think it would be fun for the fans if we played each other more often."

INJURY UPDATE: Catcher Ryan Doumit, on the disabled list since April 20 with a broken right wrist, said he has felt no pain since he began taking swings at soft tosses last Friday. He also has increased his throwing program to 90 feet.

Doumit will report to the Pirates' spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla., next Friday to begin getting ready for a minor-league rehabilitation assignment. The Pirates still aren't sure when Doumit will be ready to start playing in the minors, but it seems likely he won't be back on the active roster until at least the first game after the All-Star break July 17.

"I really feel like I've been making a lot of progress lately," Doumit said. "My wrist is at the point now where it feels like nothing ever happened to it."

Meanwhile, relievers Tyler Yates (shoulder) and Craig Hansen (neck) and left-hander Phil Dumatrait (shoulder) are still unable to throw while continuing their rehabs at Bradenton.

UP NEXT: Zach Duke (7-5, 3.18) will start for the Pirates against Carl Pavano (6-5, 5.73) at 7:05 tonight in the middle game of the three-game series. Duke has allowed six home runs in his last two starts.


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