On the Pirates: McCutchen no obligatory All-Star

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Albert Pujols.

Jimmy Rollins.

Nomar Garciaparra.

Andrew McCutchen?

Should the National League coaching staff later today select the Pirates' center fielder to their All-Star squad for the game next week in Anaheim, Calif., McCutchen would join those star-studded predecessors in an elite feat: 23-year-olds, or younger, who made the midsummer classic after just 200 or fewer major league games.

A Hall of Fame plethora of others have received an invitation at an earlier age, such as Alex Rodriguez at 20, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio at 21, Cal Ripken Jr. at 22. Not to draw McCutchen into such a Cooperstown wing already, but let's name drop for the sake of a comparison about relative job experience. There is much to be said for becoming an All-Star not long after turning old enough to vote.

Then again, catcher Jason Kendall made the game in 1996 at age 22 after just 70 major league games. He returned twice more through age 26, then not again. A 23-year-old Detroit catcher named Matt Nokes made it in 1987, and 22-year-old Oakland outfielder Ben Grieve in 1998, then never again. Those kind of feats raise disdain over the obligatory representation in an All-Star Game: Rules stipulate that every team must send one player.

"Be nice to earn it," McCutchen said. But, even if you went as the Pirates' lone, must-have-one representative, he added, "It'd feel like you earned it. It's still an honor."

The question remains: Has McCutchen, who was batting as high as .319 June 19 before gathering just six hits and three RBIs in his next 11 games, earned it regardless?

Is he deserving of an All-Star berth on portfolio alone, one month more than one calendar year into his major league career?

"I think just what he's done this year, he's deserving to be on the All-Star team," said reliever Brendan Donnelly, the only other player in the Pirates' clubhouse to have played in an All-Star Game. He was the winning pitcher in 2003. "He's one of the few players who has five tools. He's able to do it all, and at a high level. You find me another guy who hasn't had a day off ... and helps his team win [every day]. You're not going to find him."

Everyone forgets May 4, the first of a three-game home series against the Chicago Cubs and his lone day off among the Pirates' past 134 games. No other major league center fielder has started more often this season.

Offensively, McCutchen entered the weekend tops among all center fielders in on-base percentage and walks, second in runs and third in hits. Philadelphia's Shane Victorino? McCutchen had more stolen bases and an average some 40 points higher. "He's the one other teams key on," Donnelly said.

Defensively, "he's taken away I don't know how many hits," Donnelly added. "I look back, and he's turning doubles into outs."

For a player whose major league time makes it seem as if he has played more than the expected 193 games that he could carry to Anaheim, the All-Star Game was not a long-awaited milestone.

"Never thought about it," McCutchen said, with a shrug. "I guess it'd be cool. It'd be fun to be there, of course.

"I guess I'll feel more excited it if actually happens."

Reliever Evan Meek had to catch Philadelphia and NL All-Star manager Charlie Manuel's eye this week, much like Zach Duke did last year in the days before grabbing a late invite to St. Louis.

"Every job is important," Meek began. "But, for a guy to be a leadoff hitter, to hit in the No. 3 hole, to play center field like he does, to do everything that he's doing every day, Cutch is deserving."

Brothers in arms

The herky-jerky, shoulder-high thrower that is Donnelly remains grateful for the handy mechanics tips he received recently from a source you might not expect: side-armer Javier Lopez.

"Just because I throw differently doesn't mean I don't have the same checkpoints," explained Lopez, whom Donnelly teasingly calls "my 'unofficial' pitching coach."

Lopez is an introspective sort, who just may be the Pirates' resident crossword expert, but, this matter, Lopez said he went back to some tapes and some memories of their days together in the Boston Red Sox's bullpen in 2005.

"I got a text from Troy Percival with what he thought I should do," Donnelly, 39 today (yes, he was born on the Fourth of July), said of that long-ago Angels teammate.

"I couldn't translate his words into what I was doing. Javy saw I was frustrated.

"He gave me one little pointer. ... Since, I've been more in control of all three pitches, even with that slight adjustment."

"He wanted to try something," Lopez added. "He was open to a suggestion," Lopez added. "So, I offered it to him."

Kid All-Stars

A sampling of All-Star position players from the past 25 years who were under 25 years of age and had fewer than 200 MLB games at the time of their selection. If selected, Andrew McCutchen, 23, would have played 185 games:

PlayerAgeGamesYearJason Kendall22701996Sandy Alomar23781990Alex Gonzalez22841999Evan Longoria23842008Albert Pujols21852001Wally Joyner24871986Matt Nokes23971987Mark McGwire23981987Jimmy Rollins22992001Ben Grieve221081998Adam Dunn221512002Jose Canseco221191986Hank Blaylock221312003Jose Lopez221972006

Chuck Finder: cfinder@post-gazette.com . Find more online at PBC Blog . First Published July 4, 2010 4:00 AM


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