Pirates notebook: Infield hit defines McCutchen's mindset
TAMPA, Fla. — A play that got lost in the box score a few days ago speaks volumes about the way Andrew McCutchen plays the game.
Ninth inning, one out, Pirates losing by four runs in a meaningless spring training game. McCutchen hit a roller to the left side, and Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar approached it as he would any routine ground ball.
Except it wasn't.
McCutchen bolted out of the batter's box, flew down the first-base line and beat Escobar's throw for an infield single.
In the Pirates' dugout, Russell Martin stood up and cheered. The handful of fans who stuck around on a chilly night whooped.
Manager Clint Hurdle wasn't surprised, though. He's seen it before from McCutchen, and it's what he's come to expect — and demand.
“When your best player is your hardest worker, it steps up everybody's game,” Hurdle said. “That's the way we've got to play. It's a mindset, as much as anything.”
Even the Rays took note of McCutchen's hustle.
“I can't be more impressed,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I know how good he is with everything else that he does, but for that organization to have their best player do something like that is extremely impressive. I already was a big admirer, but even more so right now.”
After McCutchen's breakout season last year, the rest of the country could soon discover what makes McCutchen tick. Former big league manager Larry Bowa, now an analyst for The MLB Network, said McCutchen never fails to go all-out.
“There's a mental toughness about him that I like,” Bowa said.
“He's shown the ability to concentrate in tough times, like in September when the team is out of it. This kid doesn't give away at-bats. If they could surround him with a couple more players, I think it would be an exciting team to watch.”
Locke shines in finale
Jeff Locke, who threw six scoreless innings against the Yankees, has pitched in the majors in each of the past two seasons, but this will be his first Opening Day in the big leagues.
“It's super exciting,” Locke said. “Just talking to the veterans, they tell me Opening Day doesn't get old. It's never the same and it's always exciting. I can only speak about Triple-A opening days, but, I'll tell you, I was so excited for that, so I can only imagine what this will be like.”
Grilli gets a start
James McDonald will start the exhibition game Saturday in Altoona. Closer Jason Grilli will switch teams — and roles — for the day and start for the Double-A Curve. “I need another jersey to add to my collection,” Grilli joked.
Planet of the aches
Although he'll likely be placed on the disabled list Sunday, Brandon Inge (shoulder) will be in Pittsburgh for the season opener. ... Jeff Karstens (shoulder) will remain in Florida, shut down and waiting for the inflammation to subside. General manager Neal Huntington said Karstens has not had an MRI exam, but didn't rule out that course of action in the coming days.
Don't bother asking A.J. Burnett if the Pirates can avoid the kind second-half meltdown they endured last season.
“Sorry, I'm not going to answer any more ‘last year' questions,” Burnett said.
He's not the only one. When the team broke camp Thursday and flew north, it left behind all its memories — and discussion — of last year's flop.
“We had one last talk about last year and we're done. It's this year,” Hurdle said.
“We've put in six weeks of work. Do we still have room for improvement? Absolutely. But we're all focused forward.”
Walker ramps it up
Neil Walker said it takes him a bit longer than most players to get ready each spring because he's a switch hitter.
“I've got to pace myself and find ways to fine-tune slowly,” Walker said. “If you do too much during spring training, it can be counter-productive. August and September are still six months away. You have to listen to your body and take it easy with the pace.”
The herniated disc that sidelined Walker at the end of last season was not an issue in camp. He played sparingly over the first two weeks of Grapefruit League games. Since then, he's been in the lineup for 13 of 17 games.
“There's been no health issues for Neil, whatsoever,” Hurdle said. “No setbacks. There's nothing he hasn't been able to do on the field.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: McCutchen returns to starting lineup; Alvarez out
- Minor league notes: Baseball vagabonds improve stock with strong seasons
- Pirates send Polanco to Triple-A Indianapolis; Tabata, Barmes return
- Pirates down Cardinals, inch closer in wild-card chase