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Red-hot McCutchen vows no repeat of his '12 late slump

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 8:51 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen scores past Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch during the first inning Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, at PNC Park.

So far this month, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is showing no signs of the August slump he fell into last year.

In fact, McCutchen's offensive numbers are better this month than they've been all year, with a .418 batting average, a .529 on-base percentage and 1.129 OPS with multiple hits in 10 of 16 games through Sunday.

He's second only to Washington's Jayson Werth (.500) in batting average in August, well ahead of his July average of .327 and, perhaps most importantly for the Pirates down the stretch, McCutchen feels like he still has room to improve.

“That's the way I feel, like I can continue to get better, continue to keep going,” McCutchen said Sunday before the Pirates' 4-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 16 innings. “I honestly feel like I haven't reached my plateau as far as this year goes. I haven't really taken off like I normally would. I'm getting my hits here and there, hitting some balls to the right side, driving the ball to the gap, flying out on the warning track. I feel like those are going to turn to doubles, the doubles turn to home runs, and keep going.”

McCutchen started out batting .302 the first month of 2012 and built from there, peaking at .446 in July after going 41 for 92 with four doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 15 RBI. The pace was unsustainable though, and McCutchen averaged .252 in August and .260 in September. It was enough to keep him in contention for the National League batting title until the final weeks of the season, but he lost the crown to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.

McCutchen, a three-time All-Star, said he didn't change anything to keep his momentum going this year.

“I just didn't have an awesome first half,” he said. “I was doing so well (in 2012) that keeping up and maintaining that consistency was a little tougher than the norm. It's a little easier to go from the bottom and work your way up than be at the top and stay at the top. I really think that's been the key. I just had a slower start than normal this year and really started to settle in as the year went on.”

McCutchen said after a 19-for-84 stretch (.226) over the first 23 games, he decided in St. Louis in April that he had to go back to the basics. For him, that meant focusing on one thing at a time rather than, for instance, thinking about settling in his legs a little more, where he was placing his hands and numerous other things when stepping to the plate.

It also meant not worrying about the results.

“Just focusing on that one thing and knowing that when I get all (the one things) working together, I'm going to have the numbers I want to have,” McCutchen said. “But I had to accept that I wasn't where I needed to be.”

General manager Neal Huntington said they have seen good stretches from McCutchen and stretches where he slides back into the role of trying to carry the team. It's why they talked about trying to add a hitter at the trade deadline.

“At the same time, Andrew's been showing signs, (such as) driving the ball to right-center field, that are really encouraging,” Huntington said. “Being willing to take the walk and let Pedro (Alvarez) or (Russell Martin) or (Neil Walker), whoever's behind him, be the next one to carry the baton.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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