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McCutchen leads charge as Pirates hammer Cubs

Andrew McCutchen insists he wasn't trying to validate his All-Star credentials, and there really is no reason he would have to. Still, the Pirates' center fielder picked a great time to have a monster game.

On Sunday afternoon -- about 18 hours after getting his first All-Star invite -- McCutchen smacked a three-run homer and collected five RBI. The Pirates hammered the Chicago Cubs, 9-1.

Just another day at the office for McCutchen, who's batting .291 with 14 home runs.

"I plan on doing that even after the All-Star Game," McCutchen said.

McCutchen will join teammates Kevin Correia, who yesterday was named to the National League squad, and Joel Hanrahan at the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Phoenix. It's the first time in 21 years the Pirates have three All-Star reps.

By winning six of their past nine games, the Pirates stormed into the All-Star break with a 47-43 record -- a 17-game improvement from where they were after 90 games last season. They are in second place in the NL Central, one game behind co-leaders Milwaukee and St. Louis.

"It's good to finish up (the first half) strong," McCutchen said. "We'll take a little break, then get ready for the next half. It's been good so far; we have to keep it going."

The Pirates blitzed right-hander Ramon Ortiz (0-2) for seven hits and built a 4-0 lead after three innings. McCutchen delivered the big blow, a majestic homer over the center field wall that brought the sun-splashed crowd of 31,428 to its feet.

"Another big crowd," left-hander Paul Maholm said. "It was a fun game."

Garrett Jones put the game away in the eighth inning with a two-run double off former Pirates reliever John Grabow. Neil Walker had three hits -- two doubles and a triple -- scored twice and drove in a run.

Maholm (6-9) pitched 7 23 innings, allowed a run and four hits, and racked up a season-high eight strikeouts. The defense helped him out by turning a double play in each of the first four innings.

"That's what I'm trying for, ground ball after ground ball," Maholm said. "I'm trying to get out of there pretty quick."

The four double plays are two shy of the single-game franchise record. Rookie shortstop Chase d'Arnaud and second baseman Walker were in sync from the start.

"Paul did his thing, and we took care of business and helped him out," d'Arnaud said. "Double plays always make things a lot easier."

Additional Information:

Around the Pirates

• GM Neal Huntington continues to scour the trade market, with the caveat that 'it has to be the right piece for the right price.' Could that price include one of the Pirates' coveted prospects• 'We are to a point where we've got some prospects in our system we're willing to talk about,' Huntington said. 'There are some that we're not, unless it's absolutely huge piece for us in return.'

• Closer Joel Hanrahan, who goes by the Twitter handle @hanrahan4457, will be among several All-Stars who'll be tweeting live from the Home Run Derby tonight at Chase Field in Phoenix.

• Right-hander Bryan Morris, who last month was converted to a reliever at Double-A Altoona, might be a candidate for a bullpen job with the Pirates later this season. 'One of our scouts came forward and said our best bullpen acquisition might be Bryan Morris,' Huntington said. '(He has) two power breaking balls, 93-97 mph. If he continues to pitch well, he could put himself in the middle of our bullpen picture.'

• Huntington said the decision to send Pedro Alvarez back to Triple-A Indianapolis was in no way motivated by a desire to keep Alvarez's major league service time low and delay the arbitration process.

• Reliever Joe Beimel (elbow inflammation) was slated to pitch one inning Sunday for Double-A Altoona to wrap up his rehab assignment. Beimel is expected to be activated off the disabled list Friday in time for the Pirates' first game after the All-Star break.

• Infielder Steve Pearce (strained calf) yesterday began his rehab stint with High-A Bradenton. He is on track to come off the DL in the next couple of weeks.

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