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Van Slyke comments on Bucs' McCutchen

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Andy Van Slyke figured his legacy in Pittsburgh was safe in Nate McLouth's hands. And Van Slyke can feel confident that it's still safe, even though McLouth is gone.

Van Slyke won five Gold Gloves from 1988 to '92. He and Bill Virdon were the only Pirates center fielders to win the fielding award until last season, when McLouth also was honored.

"(McLouth) was an All-Star, so he's got to be pretty good," said Van Slyke, who now is the Detroit Tigers' first base coach.

Van Slyke paused.

"But they must think the kid's going to be better, or else they wouldn't have traded (McLouth)."

The kid, of course, is Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2005. McCutchen was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis 11 days ago and made his major league debut after McLouth was dealt to Atlanta.

Only 22 — he was 2 years old when Van Slyke won his first Gold Glove — McCutchen did not recognize Van Slyke's name or know what he accomplished with the Pirates

When told of the multiple awards Van Slyke won patrolling center field at Three Rivers Stadium, McCutchen grinned.

"Yeah, no pressure, huh?" McCutchen said.

There is pressure, of course. Pressure to live up to Van Slyke's standards. Pressure to replace McLouth, who was a fan favorite. Pressure to succeed as a former top draft pick from the heralded Class of '05.

So far, so good.

"Having Andrew in the lineup has kind of jump-started us a little bit," manager John Russell said. "He's not going to hit .400 ... then again, he might. He adds so many other intangibles, even if he doesn't hit — the pressure on the defense, playing center field very well. He's fun to watch."

Over the past year, McCutchen made huge strides with his defense, especially with his positioning and the routes he takes to fly balls. Being one of the fleetest center fielders in the game will help McCutchen make the transition from Triple-A to the majors.

"Maybe the biggest adjustment is the size of the ballpark," Van Slyke said. "The backdrop is something that you're not used to because there's no minor-league park that has stands all the way around.

"You have to have the ability to keep your eye on the ball when you're running into the gap, and the ball's up in the stands, and there's no sky for a background. It takes time to learn that. For some guys, the learning curve is longer than it is for others."

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