Moving past an up-and-down season

| Monday, March 7, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. -- At this time last season, Daniel McCutchen was in a two-man race for the No. 5 spot in the Pirates' rotation, a battle he ultimately won over fellow right-hander Kevin Hart.

Now, the 28-year-old is no longer being mentioned in the rotation talk. Instead, he's part of a crowded mix -- including Jeff Karstens, Chris Resop, the loser in this year's fight for the fifth starter spot and several left-handers -- competing for a place in the bullpen.

Where he'll end up is up in the air.

"One thing with McCutchen is, he's a jack-of-all-trades," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "We can use him in multiple roles -- middle relief, spot starter, starter. We'll see how things play out during the spring. He's getting every chance to keep himself sharp and, if we get the opportunity to stretch him out for two, three innings, we're going to give him that opportunity."

McCutchen, acquired from the New York Yankees in 2008 with Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, spent most of 2009 with Triple-A Indianapolis and was the team MVP.

He made his first Pirates start of 2010 on April 11 and his last Oct. 1. In between, he was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis and subsequently recalled three times, then was moved to the bullpen in early August before appearing again as a starter later that month.

The guy recognized as having the best changeup in the organization by Baseball America before the season finished 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA. What McCutchen took away from all of the changes, he said, was to not give opposing batters too much credit.

"It is a higher level of a game and you don't get away with as many mistakes, but still, if you make your pitches and pitch the right way, outs will still count," he said. "It's maybe just not putting the guys you're facing on a higher level than you."

McCutchen pitched a scoreless inning Sunday against Toronto, allowing back-to-back singles before retiring three straight Blue Jays.

The goal now, he said, is to focus on taking his stuff -- a two-seam fastball that he has to keep down but has been pleased with lately, plus a changeup, sinker and slider he feels has come a long way -- and switching on the mental side of pitching.

"You can look around at a lot of pitchers with so-called average stuff, but being able to pitch, that's what separates guys," he said. "It's locating, it's changing speeds, pitching in and out. Sometimes, you're out there, and you know the hitters don't have a clue what's coming. Then sometimes, when things are going bad, it feels like I'm throwing a 2-1 changeup right here, but I know this guy knows a 2-1 changeup's coming.

"You just want to be on the other side -- where the hitter's flustered and not you."

Season in Review

Pirates right-hander Daniel McCutchen began and ended last season as a starter, but a lot happened in between. A look at his 2010:

Date -- Action Of note

April 11 -- First start Allows nine earned runs in 3 13 innings for loss

April 12 -- Optioned to Triple-A Makes no appearances for Indianapolis

April 17 -- Recalled Gets a no-decision, then yields six runs in 3 23 innings of third start and makes one scoreless relief appearance

April 25 -- Optioned Posts win, then loses three of next four decisions; wins back-to-back starts, then loses back-to-back starts

June 26 -- Recalled Loses first start, then gets first win July 1 and follows it with another loss

July 8 -- Optioned Goes 0-3 in three starts with a 4.42 ERA

July 31 -- Recalled Suffers loss in seventh start

August 3 -- Moved to bullpen Makes eight straight appearances in relief, allowing two earned runs in 9 13 innings

Aug. 25 -- Makes eighth start Pitches six scoreless innings for second win, then returns to bullpen

Oct. 1 -- Final start Allows one run in four innings for no-decision

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Pirates Spring Training 2011

Pirates Spring Training 2011

Images from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

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