SAN FRANCISCO -- Here's a notion that may not have crept into many thoughts about these Pirates:
Not one, but potentially two Pirates candidates for Rookie of the Year.
Granted, it remains early in the formative season, if not careers, of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, 22, and outfielder-first baseman Garrett Jones, 28. It is a race where St. Louis' Colby Rasmus, Arizona's Gerardo Parra and Milwuakee's Casey McGehee have put up impressive numbers over a sample of time longer than, say, a month or two. Yet there is no denying the haste with which McCutchen and Jones have tread upon their statistical company.
McCutchen entered last night against the Giants at AT&T Park third among National League rookies and fourth in the majors overall with a .287 batting average. He was second to Parra in triples and second to McGehee in slugging percentage, third in stolen bases and extra-base hits, fifth in total bases and on-base percentage, and seventh in RBIs. In considerably shorter time, he was second to Rasmus and Colorado's Dexter Fowler in multi-hit games, and he already owned the longest hitting streak by a major-league rookie thus far at 13 games.
Jones, meantime, has rapidly surged into second in major-league rookie homers with 10, and, perhaps surprisingly, his four stolen bases already rank sixth among NL rookies.
"Absolutely," Pirates manager John Russell said of the two potential rookie of the year candidates from different ends of the spectrum, McCutchen a rising ex-first-rounder and Jones the five-year Class AAA player. "They're both doing well."
And then Russell made a salient point about the hitters around McCutchen and Jones:
"Theoretically, you can look at a lot of [these] guys as kind of rookies."
Truth be told, the Pirates' lineup that started last night included four batters with barely a half-season of major-league at-bats on the resume and three others with barely two full seasons' worth.
Jones began last night with 161, counting both the Pirates and the 2007 Twins. McCutchen had 195, Steve Pearce 204 and Delwyn Young 324. Then came Brandon Moss with 505, Andy LaRoche with 641 and Ryan Doumit with 1,161. That's seven of your eight position players totaling the equivalent of half-dozen full seasons of experience.
"That's part of the growing pains we're going through offensively and team-wise, guys who haven't had that many at-bats at the major-league level," Russell added. Yet that makes the accomplishments of the two rookies even more impressive -- they've done it surrounded by players roughly the same level of experience, and they've separated themselves quickly. "To see what Garrett's done with a limited amount of at-bats. Same thing with Andrew. He's done really well for being his first go at it. That's something to say for both of them."
They will struggle. In fact, McCutchen already endured a small dose of offensive travails, and bounced back.
"Andrew went through a little period there where he wasn't swinging the bat as well. The reactions [young players normally] show as far as: Do they change their approach or over-swing or get tentative... ? I thought Andrew came out of it well. It wasn't an extended period of time, but I think he regrouped really nicely. Garrett will go through this. Every hitter in baseball goes through it.
"The low-maintenance of their swings is one of the things that is going to help both of them maintain, and hopefully their downtime isn't as long because they don't have a lot of movement [in their swings]. They're still able to do things. With Andrew's speed, he still has ways to get on base, beat out an infield single. And with Garrett's power, he still has the ability to fight a ball off and get it over the infield, or mishit balls and still be able to get hits. That's the nice thing about having a low-maintenance approach."
No love for Jones
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier won the National League player of the week award for which Jones was nominated. This despite the fact Jones had one more home run with three, two more total bases with 25 and the same RBIs with six -- though Ethier's batting average (.545), on-base percentage (.630) and slugging percentage (.893) were significantly higher. So nobody could contend it was a West Coast bias.
"I think he's still got a shot for player of the month," Russell said. "He obviously had a great week. I guess Ethier won it, and he had an outstanding week as well. You can't fault the decision. But it's nice to have a guy in the mix."
Said Jones with a shrug: "Just go for next week."
• Freddy Sanchez, scratched from the initial lineup, sat out last night's game just two nights after missing one in Arizona. His left knee remains "sore and tender," he said. "It's been sore the last couple of days. So we're going to give it a day and night, lots of treatment and things like that."
• Russell remained noncommittal about the status of Virgil Vasquez, the No. 5 starter who has exited early in two of his past three starts and lost five consecutive. "He's still here," Russell said. "Like I said, it's still early. We've got some time to piece it together." With an off day Thursday, the Pirates could conceivably give Ross Ohlendorf his next-in-line start on Friday and then tonight's starter Paul Maholm on Saturday, resuming the rotation until needing a No. 5 starter Aug. 5 against Arizona.