Pirates notebook: McCutchen regains MVP form

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CHICAGO -- Andrew McCutchen has rediscovered his previous form, at least for the time being.

McCutchen entered Monday's game against the Chicago Cubs hitting .327 with a .435 on-base percentage and four home runs in September. He hit only two homers in August, when he hit .252 with a .347 on-base percentage.

"He recognizes that he needs to make an adjustment," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're seeing signs of a young man maturing, developing, growing before our very eyes. I recognize he's an MVP candidate. He still doesn't have three full years in the big leagues."

McCutchen won consecutive National League player of the month awards in June and July. He hit seven home runs in each month and had a .446 average in July. In June, McCutchen's batting average on balls in play was .429, .493 in July. In August it fell to .321, much closer to his career average of .329.

"When he fell off after the All-Star break, I don't think he was trying to do more," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think sometimes it's just the ebb and flow of the season."

Getting a hit almost half the time he put the ball in play caught the attention of opposing pitchers.

"He's one of the guys, I would think, when you're talking about, 'You're not going to let this guy beat us,' he would be the guy for us," Hurdle said.

Pitchers have adapted accordingly.

"A lot softer on a consistent basis, a lot more repeated off-speed pitches, and away, more than anything else," Huntington said.

The improvement of Garrett Jones behind McCutchen in the cleanup spot may have helped. Jones was hitting .284 with 23 home runs and a .526 slugging percentage entering the game Monday. Huntington said McCutchen needs to trust his teammates to follow through if he doesn't get pitches to hit.

"If our guys aren't capable of doing that, then we're going to scuffle," Huntington said. "That's on me for not doing what we needed to do at the trade deadline."

McCutchen entered Monday hitting .343, three points behind the idle Melky Cabrera in the race for the NL batting title. Cabrera, the San Francisco Giants outfielder who is serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for testosterone, will win the batting title unless someone passes him.

Through the midseason success and the second-half regression, Hurdle said, McCutchen has stayed level.

"He has really tried to maintain the same approach every single day," Hurdle said. "When we talk individually about the different sides of the ball, I continue to stress that with him. I think he's finding a very good place with that."

Walker rests back

Neil Walker did not start Monday, instead taking a day to rest as he recovers from back soreness.

Walker said his back was fine. Walker and Hurdle said, though, that back injuries prevent most forms of conditioning and Walker is working back into game shape.

Walker pinch-hit Friday and started Saturday and Sunday. He missed 15 games.

"It's a lot of activity in a 48-hour period after limited activity in a much longer period of time," Hurdle said.

"I think we'd be better off served to give him the day down today and get him back for the Milwaukee series."

pirates

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.


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