McCutchen helps carry Pirates offense in rout of Brewers
MILWAUKEE — In his return to the lineup, Andrew McCutchen did not have to be at full speed to decide Sunday's game.
He simply could trot.
McCutchen is not at full strength. In the first inning, he was unable to beat out a ground ball for a hit that Aramis Ramirez fielded near the edge of the outfield grass behind third base. McCutchen has dealt with a nagging left knee injury since the spring and is unwilling, or unable, to push to a full sprint.
But in the sixth inning, with two on and the Pirates down a run and in jeopardy of consecutive series losses, McCutchen planted his left leg and uncoiled on a Kyle Lohse first-pitch, off-speed offering, sending it over the right-center wall. The three-run homer was the decisive blow in the Pirates' 10-2 win at Miller Park.
McCutchen jogged around the bases, crossed home plate and high-fived Gregory Polanco and Jordy Mercer, both of whom scored to give the Pirates a 4-2 lead.
“My 80 percent is pretty good. I can play with that,” McCutchen said. “(The knee) is going to be an everyday occurrence for me for who knows how long, but I can battle through it.”
McCutchen removed himself late in Friday's game after he felt left knee pain. He has had sporadic playing time for more than a month. Yet his timing remains intact.
McCutchen added an RBI single in a six-run ninth to finish with four RBIs. The Pirates produced season highs in runs and hits (13)
“All spring, he kept hitting velocity and spin,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of cage work. “Just because he wasn't on the field doesn't mean he wasn't getting the work in. Some guys, it is seeing (pitchers), being in the box, the game competition. For him, I don't think it matters as much as him knowing himself and his keys.”
It was a much-needed infusion of offense as the Pirates were held to two hits in a shutout loss a night earlier with McCutchen out.
And McCutchen's efforts weren't the only encouraging offensive developments for a scuffling club that entered batting .202 as a team, with 33 hits against 56 strikeouts.
In the seventh, Jung Ho Kang, singled to center, his first major league hit.
Polanco singled in Tony Sanchez in the third inning — Sanchez had three hits on the day — and also doubled to left-center field in the sixth inning before McCutchen's home run.
In the six-run ninth, Corey Hart and Jordy Mercer also had RBI singles, and Neil Walker chased Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg from the game, with a three-run homer.
“A lot of things in this game are contagious,” Hurdle said. “We saw a positive contagion on our side (Sunday) swinging the bat.”
Casey Sadler, making his first major league start in place of Francisco Liriano, who is on paternity leave, allowed two runs over five innings. His only mistake was leaving a sinker up to Carlos Gomez, who smashed the pitch into the left field seats for a two-run homer in the third.
Sadler gave way to Jared Hughes, who pitched a scoreless sixth. Arquimedes Caminero followed in the seventh. With two on and two outs, Gomez came to bat in a 4-2 game. Caminero's sequence to Gomez: 99 mph fastball (ball), 99 mph fastball (swinging strike), 100 mph fastball (swinging strike), 100 mph fastball (foul), 91 mph splitter (foul) and 92 mph splitter, which Gomez grounded to Kang at third to end the threat.
That was the last drama of the day as the Pirates pulled away in the ninth and return home with McCutchen and the lineup perhaps hitting their strides.