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Strong debut for Pirates' McCutchen

| Friday, June 5, 2009

Andrew McCutchen's much-anticipated major-league debut went according to plan.

Four pitches into his first at-bat, he singled sharply up the middle. Four batters later, he scored his first major-league run. So far, so good.

"It's his time," manager John Russell said. "This kid is a very special player."

The McCutchen era began Thursday, a bittersweet result of the shocking trade that sent Gold Glove center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for three minor-league prospects.

The 22-year-old McCutchen arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning. He hit leadoff and started in center field, getting a loud ovation from a crowd of 20,683 when he stepped to the plate in the first. He finished 2-for-4 with three runs, a steal and an RBI.

"It's a special day for him," Russell said. "It's obviously a day he'll probably never forget."

McCutchen, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2005 draft, is regarded as the Pirates' top prospect. He was hitting .303 with four home runs, 20 RBI and 10 steals at Triple-A Indianapolis. His promotion virtually was assured this year, but the timing of the call-up was surprising.

"It kind of caught me off-guard a little bit," he said. "I wasn't expecting it to be right now. But everything happens for a reason. ... It was an awesome feeling to finally get here."

In the clubhouse, the players tempered the sting of losing a good friend and teammate with the excitement of McCutchen's arrival.

"Losing a guy like Nate definitely (stinks)," left fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "But we're getting a guy that can play. ... It's a business move. They see a great future in McCutchen."

McCutchen is considered the finest defensive outfielder in the organization - superior to even Gold Glove-winning McLouth. Along with Morgan, he gives the Pirates as much speed at the top of the lineup as any team in baseball.

Russell expects McCutchen to be able to handle the pressure of replacing one of the team's best and most popular players.

"He's very confident," Russell said. "He's going to struggle. Everybody struggles from time to time. I'm sure we're going to hear it. 'We shouldn't have gotten rid of McLouth. (McCutchen) is 0-for-12, where's Nate?' But he's going to be fine."

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