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McCutchen regains swagger in Pirates loss to Cardinals

| Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 10:54 p.m.

ST. LOUIS — Although the Pirates came up 2-1 losers on Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, they found something they've been lacking all season.

Andrew McCutchen returned to center field and got his swagger back.

“Just doing my job,” McCutchen said quietly.

McCutchen went 2 for 4, including a double, to extend his hitting streak to nine games. He also displayed his old mojo in the outfield, making acrobatic, full-sprint catches like a younger version of himself.

“I don't know about mojo or whatnot,” McCutchen said. “I'm just doing me, doing my job. Center field is where I need to play. It's where I want to be at. If I've got to show a couple people that — show I can do what I need to do — that's what I'm going to do.”

McCutchen was unhappy when management decided last winter he no longer had the chops to play center field. He played in right for the first 13 games this season and did a solid, albeit unspectacular, job.

When Starling Marte was suspended 80 games for using a performance-enhancing drug on Tuesday, McCutchen again became the everyday center fielder.

“He's ready,” left fielder Gregory Polanco said. “I can see it. He seems faster than last year. His knee is healthy again and he's flying.”

With Marte out until after the All-Star break, the Pirates will need an infusion of oomph from McCutchen.

“It's very important because he's the guy,” Polanco said. “When he goes, everybody goes. When you see him playing like that, everybody wants to follow him.”

The Cardinals tested the “new” center fielder often in the game. McCutchen ran hard to his right and hauled in Jose Martinez's fly ball in the second inning. In the third, Mike Leake's deep fly sent McCutchen sprinting back to the wall.

After he made the catch and threw the ball back to the infield, McCutchen pumped his fist and shouted, “That's my spot!”

The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the first against right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-1). Dexter Fowler tripled off the wall in right-center — right fielder Adam Frazier kicked the ball, but it made no difference as Fowler was thinking triple all the way.

“A fastball that just ran back over the middle,” Kuhl said. “He got it. You have to buckle down and limit the damage after that.”

Stephen Piscotty hit a slow roller to the right side. First baseman Josh Bell's throw to the plate was high and too late to prevent Fowler from scoring.

Martinez began the fifth with a single up the middle. Greg Garcia lined a double to the gap in right-center to score Martinez. McCutchen picked up an outfield assist when Garcia was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Leake checked the Pirates to three hits over the first five innings. Frazier led off the sixth with an infield single.

With one out, McCutchen pulled a double down the line, just beyond the reach of third baseman Garcia. Polanco's ground out scored Frazier to make it 2-1.

The Pirates threatened in the seventh. With one out, Bell and Jordy Mercer hit back-to-back singles. Lefty Brett Cecil replaced Leake and got pinch-hitter Jose Osuna — in his first at-bat in the big leagues — to roll into a double play.

Notes: Osuna took Marte's spot on the active roster. To replace Osuna at Triple-A Indianapolis, Joey Terdoslavich was promoted from extended spring training. … Marte leads the majors with three outfield assists. His 40 assists since the start of the 2014 season are tied with Yoenis Cespedes for the most in the big leagues.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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