Swiping more bases a point of emphasis for Pirates, McCutchen

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen made a simple analogy while explaining his approach to stealing more bases.

"If you want to hit better, you watch all the great hitters," McCutchen said. "So for stealing bases, you watch guys that have a lot of success stealing bases."

That doesn't necessarily mean Mike Trout, Michael Bourn or others who are exceptionally fast. The players McCutchen likes to watch as he and the Pirates aim to improve their steal numbers are those without pure speed who rely on other skills to steal bases.

"I like to watch people who need everything to be right for them to go," McCutchen said. "Those are the people you can really get to watch, see what they're doing to get a jump.

"I know that with my speed I should be able to get to the next base without a problem. I like to watch the guys who need a little more than just speed to get to the base. You can really see their mechanics and their form."

The Pirates stole 73 bases last season, the third fewest in the majors. They were successful 58 percent of the time. McCutchen, who stole 33 bases in 2010, took 23 in 2011 and 20 last season. From June 20-Aug. 20, a 55-game span, McCutchen did not steal a base.

"A lot of it is confidence, a lot of it is mentality on the bases even more than a lot of the physical stuff," said Alex Presley, one of the faster Pirates who stole nine bases in each of the past two seasons. "It's just knowing that you're going to take the bag. That will stop any hesitation on a jump."

McCutchen, Starling Marte and Presley, who is fighting this spring for a spot in the outfield, represent usable speed manager Clint Hurdle hopes to tap.

"His attitude toward us is, 'I want you to go,' " Presley said. " 'I want you to be aggressive. If you get thrown out, you get thrown out.' "

Converting steal attempts benefits the offense, and that extra base can be especially helpful to a team like the Pirates that began the 2012 season at the bottom of the league offensively. Teams score about 44 percent of the time, according to various calculations, when they put a runner on first base with no outs. That increases to about 62 percent with a runner on second and no outs.

Stealing a base requires more than speed. Runners need a clean first step, knowledge of the pitcher's pickoff moves and hold times and an idea of what pitch to expect given the situation.

"If you can get a little bigger lead, that can make all the difference in the world, because it's usually bang-bang when you get thrown out," Presley said. "Every little advantage you can get, you need to take it because it has nothing to do with speed. It has to do with the tendencies of the pitcher."

"The pitcher's working in a cadence," McCutchen said. "If he's continuing to do the same thing over and over, you kind of pick up on those things when you're on the basepaths."

McCutchen hopes to consistently take bases when he knows the situation is favorable, no matter when that occurs.

"Just being able to have confidence that I'll be able to get to the next bag with no problem," McCutchen said. "That's the biggest thing for myself, is not worrying about it. Just knowing that if I want to go, I can go."

That is the key -- the chances of scoring a run drop to 17 percent with one out and the bases empty.

Young pitchers impress

Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon each pitched two scoreless innings in Friday's intrasquad game at McKechnie Field.

"I thought they were very, very good with their pace, and obviously they both pitched pretty well today," Hurdle said.

Hurdle wanted his pitchers to concentrate on the time they took between pitches and pay attention to the running game. He said he was pleased with the way Cole and Taillon performed.

"There's a fine line between that, holding too long and slowing things down and keeping a good pace," Cole said.

On the offensive side, Marte hit a two-run home run.


• Grapefruit League opener: Pirates vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m.

• Where: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla.

• Radio: KDKA-FM (93.7).

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published February 23, 2013 5:00 AM


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