DENVER -- It has been 35 years since Clint Hurdle made his major league debut, and in that time, he has seen some incredible months of offense.
Andrew McCutchen's most recent work might top that list, Hurdle said.
Better than when he watched George Brett terrorize the AL, Larry Walker in 1997 or Josh Hamilton in June 2010.
"I'm looking at Andrew, this might be the best I've ever seen," Hurdle said. "It very well could be. It's not about looking at the numbers, I'm watching this young man perform. Then, I'm taking into account the cast of characters, the team involved, and I'm thinking 'Wow. This is special.' "
From June 17 to July 17, McCutchen hit .485 with 50 hits, 30 runs, 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, 7 doubles and 2 triples. He had a .527 on-base percentage and a 1.439 OPS.
In that span, he had 15 strikeouts and drew nine walks.
McCutchen won the NL player of the week award in back-to-back weeks, and while he is a leading MVP candidate -- and in the hunt for a triple crown -- Hurdle stopped short of calling McCutchen an elite player, a distinction he said comes with time.
"It's been a special three and a half months, and that's where I leave it," Hurdle said. "Am I optimistic about his future? Absolutely."
McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract this offseason with a club option for a seventh season valued at $14.75 million.
At this point, the contract looks like a bargain. The Baltimore Orioles signed center fielder Adam Jones to an $85 million, six-year contract in May. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed center fielder Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million contract in November.
It makes the Pirates glad they signed McCutchen to a deal before the start of his breakout season, and not after.
"That's just the beauty of it," Hurdle said. "It was the right move at the right times for all the right reasons for everybody. I don't have any doubt it could be one of the reasons that's freed him up. Now he can go play. I've seen it work the other way where 'Now I've got the weight of the world on me, now I've really got to do something special.' "
Rookie reliever Jared Hughes has allowed only one of his 17 inherited runners this season to score, and four of 26 since making his major league debut in September.
He entered the 6-2 victory Tuesday with a three-run lead, two outs and the bases loaded and got Michael Cuddyer to fly out to center with the count full.
Hughes pitched exclusively as a starter in the minor leagues until 2009, so even after that he saw limited action as a reliever until 2011.
"It's definitely new territory, coming in with guys on base," he said. "I think I just keep the same mindset I do when there aren't guys on base. I just try to attack the bat. Go throw strikes, be aggressive and trust my fielders."
The Pirates were awarded the second pick in the competitive balance round of the 2013 draft, which will immediately follow the first round of the first-year amateur player draft. The Pirates were awarded the pick Wednesday in a lottery of small-market and low-earning teams.
The Pirates can trade the pick, which could aid them in acquiring a player before the July 31 trade deadline. It is the first time in MLB history that draft picks can be traded, and it is only allowed with competitive balance picks.