McCutchen: Pirates' never-ending star



MINNEAPOLIS -- The table reserved for Andrew McCutchen Monday at the National League media availability sat in the front of the conference room at Hyatt Regency Hotel. The 2013 National League Most Valuable Player sported a sharp blue blazer and joked with the assembled media.

McCutchen appeared at ease and comfortable in his fourth All-Star appearance. While his career accomplishments grow, from the All-Star appearances to his MVP award to the Pirates' playoff run in 2013, he said his goals do not change. He just doesn't set any.

"If anything, it's setting yourself up for failure," McCutchen said. "I've always said that. I don't have a bar. I just try and just keep going, keep going. Like an escalator that just keeps going up and doesn't stop."

McCutchen, 27, will start in the All-Star Game for the first time tonight for at Target Field, batting leadoff and playing center field for the NL. Teammates Josh Harrison and Tony Watson joined him on the NL roster, both making their first appearances.

McCutchen is assembling a season even stronger than the 2013 campaign that won him the MVP. He batted .324 with a .420 on-base percentage, 17 home runs and 15 steals in the first half. He leads the league in hits, walks and total bases. He remains unfazed, he said, because he expects this of himself.

"I think if you ask the greats in this game and the greats of the past, they didn't just say, well, I'm going to close my eyes and hope that this quarter lands on heads," McCutchen said. "They had plans and they had expectations to do what they wanted to do."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle consistently refers to McCutchen as the hardest worker on the team, and McCutchen reaffirmed that. With the expectation to succeed, he said, come actions that ensure he will.

"What's that guy called, Sisyphus, whatever his name is, pushing that rock up the mountain?" said McCutchen, invoking the mythical Greek king. "Kind of like that but for a good reason."

Though McCutchen's selection to the NL team came as no surprise, the other two were less certain. Hurdle called a meeting before a day game in early July. "I got three important pieces of information," Hurdle said, according to Harrison.

The first was that McCutchen would start. "I know I'm thinking the next two pieces are probably something involving the game or the All-Star break, like we're going to work out, this or that," Harrison said.

"He goes, 'Two more pieces of information. It says a lot about our team when [NL manager] Mike Matheny had a decision and he chose two more guys from our team and Josh Harrison and Tony Watson are going.' And that's how we found out."

Harrison, 27, hit .297 with five homers, a .333 on-base percentage and 15 doubles before the break. After walking 15 times in 575 plate appearances from 2011-13, Harrison walked 13 times in 265 plate appearances in the first half.

"I haven't changed anything as far as preparation, any of that," he said. "It's just a matter of being able to go up there and get four at-bats a game. It's a different mindset than pinch-hitting and double-switching."

In 2009, while with the Chicago Cubs organization, Harrison made the Class A Midwest League All-Star Game along with Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Dee Gordon. Sunday night, Harrison ran into Gordon, now an All-Star second baseman for the Dodgers.

"It was like, man, 2009, we were just in low [Class] A," Harrison said. "To be able to see him was pretty cool because that's kind of something you don't really think about."

In spring training, Watson said, he figured he would head home to Florida on the break and play some golf. That changed when he struck out 50 in 441/3 innings and, until allowing three runs Friday to the Cincinnati Reds, pitched to an ERA of less than 1.00.

Three years ago, the Pirates told Watson -- a starter for most of his professional career -- that moving to the bullpen represented his best chance of making the majors.

"I just embraced it," he said. "Got to the big leagues and kind of just tried to keep developing, pick up little things here and there and learn how to pitch, different situations. Here I am."

Watson made the NL team without a single save this season, a tough proposition because of the All-Star Game's track record of selecting starters and closers. Watson let his performance speak for itself by doing everything a reliever needs to -- strike out a lot of batters, not walk many, strand runners and keep the ball in the park.

"To be here representing not only the Pirates but guys that have similar roles as I do in the big leagues is pretty special," said Watson, referencing the St. Louis Cardinals' Pat Neshek and the Washington Nationals' Tyler Clippard.

Harrison described the festivities as hectic, Watson dubbed them chaotic. McCutchen said he told them to take everything in.

"I can only imagine how they feel," McCutchen said. "I know how I felt my first time being here. It's something that only they can explain. It's their emotions and their feelings. I'm just happy that they're here with me."

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


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