Pirates Notebook: Another McCutchen on rise

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The Pirates soon are expected to promote pitcher Daniel McCutchen, and that could make an already good trade look even better.

Although the reviews on some of general manager Neal Huntington's many trades range from poor (Salomon Torres) to discouraging (Jason Bay) to incomplete because of so many prospects involved, the one in which he sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees for pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and McCutchen, plus top outfield prospect, is shaping up quite well. And not just because Nady and Marte have missed extensive time to injury.

Ohlendorf leads the staff with 11 victories, Karstens is a reliable and flexible option, and now McCutchen should arrive within days after a strong second half with Class AAA Indianapolis: He is a lock to be a September callup, but he also could come up sooner, as management is considering having him start one of the games in the Aug. 31 doubleheader at Cincinnati.

McCutchen, a 26-year-old right-hander who is much more about command than zip, is the winningest pitcher at any level of the Pirates' organization, 12-6 with a 3.40 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 27 walks in 129 2/3 innings, but that tells only part of the story: He started out 2-3 before going 10-3 in the past 14 starts. In July, he had a 2.10 ERA. This month, it is 1.35, and he was just named International League pitcher of the week.

What clicked?

"I think I was a little too anxious in throwing my fastball, and I relied too much on that and my changeup," McCutchen said last night by phone from Louisville, Ky. "Now, I'm staying within myself with the fastball, I've got my best change, I've really gotten the most of my curve and slider. That's made a big difference."

"He's executing pitches more consistently," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "We challenged Daniel to pitch more this year, focus on maintaining a consistent energy level and manage his emotions allowing him to command his stuff better. This has been a process, and he continues to get better at it. I think he's finding that performance level."

McCutchen is scheduled to start tonight against Louisville.

Is he thinking about a promotion?

"Honestly, I'm just looking to pitch my way up there," he said. "I hope it happens this year."

Comfortable at cleanup

Andy LaRoche, owner of a .260 average and six home runs, hardly fits the cleanup mold, and he clearly knows it.

"I don't think I've ever hit cleanup before in my life," he said.

At the same time, his 43 walks are by far the most on the roster and, given Ryan Doumit's recent struggles, manager John Russell preferred to "keep the cycle moving" by having LaRoche reach one way or another.

"We know Andy's not the prototype, but he's patient, and he's come up with some big hits for us," Russell said.

LaRoche was at cleanup, Doumit fifth for the second time last night.

Buried treasure

• The Pirates promoted reliever Jeff Sues, a member of their 40-man roster and their minor league pitcher of the year in 2008, from Class AA Altoona to Indianapolis. Sues has a 4.46 ERA in 40 appearances but has pitched markdely better of late.

• Management still has not decided the fate of pitcher Phil Dumatrait, even though his 30-day rehabilitation stint will be up before the game Friday. He pitched in relief last night for Indianapolis. "We'll look at how we can get him on the club," Russell said.

• Cincinnati will promote Micah Owings from Class AAA Louisville to face the Pirates tomorrow. Johnny Cueto, the scheduled starter, was placed on the disabled list because of shoulder inflammation.

• Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com


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