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Pirates notebook: Brault, Hutchison are options for callup

| Saturday, July 1, 2017, 4:15 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Steven Brault delivers during the sixth inning against the Tigers Saturday, March 25, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Daniel Hudson hangs his head in the dugout next to Josh Harrison and Gerrit Cole in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Giants Saturday, July 1, 2017, at PNC Park.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison and lefty Steven Brault have pitched well enough lately for Triple-A Indianapolis to merit consideration for a call-up.

Brault (6-3, 2.24 ERA) has posted quality starts in nine of his 14 starts. He ranks among the International League leaders in batting average against (second, .222), ERA (third) and WHIP (fifth, 1.18) and strikeouts (seventh, 74).

Hutchison (4-3, 3.31) racked up 10 strikeouts June 19 against Toledo. He is among the IL leaders in ERA (fourth), innings pitched (fifth, 71 13) and WHIP (ninth, 1.27).

“They're becoming more consistent,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They're executing pitches. Their command has gotten better incrementally. They've both been able to pitch deeper into games.

“Now, the hard line is deciphering Triple-A numbers and big league numbers. That's part of the jigsaw numbers you're always trying to work through.”

To gather intel on prospects, Hurdle often consults with scouts who work for the Pirates and those from other big league clubs.

“It seems every year that gap has gotten a little larger, the separation of talent level at Triple-A from what it is in the major leagues,” Hurdle said. “Individually, it can play out differently, so it's hard to gauge. There does come a point when they've done what they can do (in the minors), and you've got to give them the opportunity to see what they can do here. That's always going to be the interesting part of the journey for all of us, the decision-making process.”

Brault and Hutchison were in the running for a rotation spot with the Pirates until the final couple of days of spring training. However, they might be used out of the bullpen if they're called up now.

“That is something we've had conversation about,” Hurdle said. “It's going to be case specific. If they get hot but they don't get in, how do they respond? That doesn't mean you can't do it, but those are some of the challenges that come with it.

“If you've got a bullpen that's air-tight at the time, you can take on a project (like that). We've had a couple different projects going through our bullpen from time to time already.”

Marte's road back

Starling Marte, who is serving an 80-game suspension for steroid use, will begin what the team termed a rehab assignment Sunday with High-A Bradenton. Marte will be eligible to rejoin the Pirates on July 18.

Cutch saw it coming

Seven weeks ago, maybe the only person who expected Andrew McCutchen to win a National League Player of the Month award this season was McCutchen.

On May 17, McCutchen lugged a .206 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage into a game against the Washington Nationals. His season seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control.

Yet, McCutchen gave no indication of panic.

“I'm going to keep working until I do better,” McCutchen said that day. “And when I do better and people say, ‘Why are you doing better?' I'm going to say, ‘It's because I expected to do better.' That's it, plain and simple. I'm not going to say it's because I hit BP earlier and something clicked. No. It'll be because I expected it. I expected to do better. I know I'm going to get out of this. And when I do, I'm going to have the same attitude: no panic.”

McCutchen wasn't just spewing cliches. That night against the Nationals, McCutchen went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. From there, things got even better.

In June, McCutchen batted .411 with a 1.193 OPS. He reached base in slightly more than half his plate appearances over the course of the month.

On Saturday, ballots were cast for June's NL Player of the Month. If McCutchen wins, he can say he saw it coming.

Empty seats

The Pirates will top the 1 million mark in home attendance Sunday. It's a level that 11 of the National League's 15 clubs already have surpassed.

Through 42 home dates, the average PNC Park attendance is 23,634 — down 14.8 percent compared to last season. This year's per-game rate is 23.4 percent lower than in 2015, when the Pirates set a franchise record with total attendance of 2,498,596.

This year's average attendance marks the sharpest drop in more than a decade. When PNC Park opened in 2001, the average crowd was 30,430. In 2002, when the Pirates were coming off a 100-loss season, the average fell by 26.7 percent to 22,312.

The Pirates will play just nine home games this month. They have 16 home dates in August and 15 in September.

Rogers off to Japan

Jason Rogers, who was released from Indianapolis on Friday, signed with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League. Rogers hit .289 with nine homers and 34 RBIs this season with Indy.

Outfielder Jordan Luplow was promoted to Indy. A third-round pick in 2014, Luplow hit .287/.368/.535 in 73 games with Double-A Altoona.

The Pirates acquired Rogers in December 2015 from the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Keon Broxton. Rogers played in 23 games with the Pirates and batted .080 with a .463 OPS. Broxton, meanwhile, is the Brewers' everyday center fielder and this season is batting .246 with 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases.

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

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