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Pirates outfielder McCutchen focuses beyond fences

| Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen hit a career-high 23 home runs last season, but the Pirates weren't exactly tickled that his sudden swinging for the fences cost him 27 points off his batting average, lowering it to .259.

So, it might have raised an eyebrow that McCutchen homered in his first at-bat of the Pirates' 10-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It was his second home run in as many games.

"I'm not going for the fences," McCutchen said. "I'm looking for something over the plate, trying to drive it to center field, staying within myself."

Indeed, the entire at-bat was a beauty. McCutchen fell behind New York's terrific youngster Michael Pineda, 1-2. But he worked the count full, then blistered a slider more than 50 feet beyond left field to put the Pirates ahead, 2-0.

"It was a good pitch," Pineda said. "But he's a good hitter."

McCutchen, batting .407, went 2 for 3, later drilling a fastball for a single.

Asked how he's feeling at the plate, McCutchen grinned and replied, "How's it look?"

Jose Tabata and Neil Walker also went 2 for 3.

Lefties struggle

Erik Bedard allowed four runs and five hits in 32/3 innings, needing 68 pitches to get that far. His ERA is 6.23 for the spring, but he didn't sound concerned.

"It's the middle of spring," Bedard said. "I threw all my pitches, worked on everything, tried to stay off the middle of the plate."

The lefty who followed fared worse: Jo-Jo Reyes failed to retire any of five batters, allowing three hits and two walks as the Yankees bolted ahead, 7-2. Reyes has a 12.86 ERA.

Bench set?

The Pirates still have 43 players in camp, but internal indications are strong that the bench will be completed with infielders Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro. They would join bench locks Nate McLouth, Casey McGehee and Michael McKenry.

Harrison, who batted .272 in 65 games last year, leads the Pirates with a .600 spring average (9 for 15) with five doubles, a home run, two walks and two steals. He has shown enough defensively, too, to convince management he could be at least a short-term backup shortstop if needed.

Navarro, acquired from the Kansas City Royals in a minor-league trade in December, is batting .280 (7 for 25) with a double. He has a history of good contact in the minors, with a .279 career average and 43 home runs in 470 games.

Both players are 24 and would be in their first full season in the majors.

Burnett to throw

A.J. Burnett, recovering from a broken orbital bone, is scheduled to throw his second side session this morning in Bradenton. Burnett reiterated that there have been no issues with the eye, calling it "great."

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