Pirates star Andrew McCutchen was activated off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and returned to his regular spot in the batting order (third) and the field (center).
McCutchen, who had an avulsion fracture involving the cartilage of the 11th rib on his lower left side, returned with no restrictions, although he will wear a thin chest protector under his uniform for some extra peace of mind.
Manager Clint Hurdle said it is obviously great to get the reigning National League MVP back into the lineup, but it goes beyond just his production.
“I think the presence [of McCutchen] is valuable, the player is valuable, the value that the presence does bring is something we miss when he is not in,” Hurdle said. “Now can we play through it? Yeah, we just went through a period of two weeks without him and we were in a pretty good place for a while, then stumbled at the end.
“So we are all happy to have him back; it solidifies the middle of the lineup, it gets guys back in their normal positions where they have been hitting, so he is ready to go.”
Hurdle said there is indeed a period of time after a player returns that the team’s trainers and medical staff will monitor him closely to make sure there is no regression in the injury, but he emphasized McCutchen wouldn’t be back if he wasn’t healthy.
“Any time an injured player is on a return-to-play program, there is going to be a little more attention paid to [his injury],” Hurdle said. “But the conversations I have had with him, the challenge is ‘when you come back, you play like you need to play,’ and that is what I talked to him about — be free to go play.”
Mercer returns, too
Along with McCutchen, the Pirates welcomed shortstop Jordy Mercer back to the lineup after he spent the past two days testing his right forearm by fielding and throwing long toss.
Mercer didn’t go on the disabled list, but he was not available to play the field the previous four games after leaving the game Thursday in Detroit because of the forearm stiffness.
“I wanted to be out there to watch [Mercer throw in pregame],” Hurdle said. “But there is also that part of me that wanted to have him look me in the eyes and tell me he is good to go. They can tell the trainers they are good to go, but that’s a little different. It is like telling your teacher you are good to go, but then having to tell your dad you are good to go or you are going to do your homework.
“He said he is good to go, so he is good to go; we trust him. The training staff tested him out, so it is good to have him back in the lineup.”
Pedro Alvarez played his first game at first base Monday and was not in the lineup Tuesday night when Josh Harrison played third base.
Hurdle said Alvarez likely will continue to be a first baseman or pinch-hitter the rest of this season because of his well-documented struggles at his regular position.
“This year, we have a better option [at third] in Josh Harrison right now,” Hurdle said.
“My intention is to not close the door on [Alvarez] at third, but right now, with this team, to put the best team on the field every night that I can for us.
“If that includes him at third, so be it, but right now I think we have better options. But everybody needs some at-bats; we are not going to quit on anybody. Pedro has shown us a bat that can get white-hot — it hasn’t this year.
“Are there opportunities for that to still happen for him? We believe there are, but we have to get him some at-bats. But has third base been the optimum position for that? No, it has not.”
Martinez back in minors
Utilityman Michael Martinez was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis in order to make room for McCutchen on the 25-man roster.
Martinez was 5 for 39 (.128) in 26 games with the Pirates and mired in an 0-for-17 slump.
The Pirates will need to make another move in order to open a roster spot for pitcher Gerrit Cole, who is expected to come off the disabled list today and start tonight.
Martinez, infielder Brent Morel, backup catcher Chris Stewart and utilityman Jayson Nix have been lightning rods for criticism after failing to provide much help off the bench.
Hurdle was asked if he felt the bench was good enough, especially without McCutchen and Mercer in the lineup.
“I know it is not meant to be, but this is a trick question from my perspective,” Hurdle said.
“We have who we have, you use who you have.
“We have had many opportunities through this stretch to score more runs with the people we have had in the lineup. That is my best answer.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.