Andrew McCutchen has resumed his role as the face of the franchise after a five-year absence and is closing in on 2,000 hits. Yet he isn’t above making sacrifices for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Manager Derek Shelton has asked McCutchen to become the primary leadoff hitter over the past week and a half. He has batted first in eight of the Pirates’ last nine games.
The five-time All-Star and 2013 National League MVP has done so without complaint – even though McCutchen would prefer to hit a run-producing spot in the batting order.
“It’s a love/hate thing. It’s OK,” McCutchen said when asked about hitting leadoff. “You only lead off once in the game. After that, that’s basically it.”
Shelton is batting McCutchen leadoff out of necessity.
Shortstop Oneil Cruz has been out of action since breaking his left ankle on April 9. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes got an extended run at the top of the order but struggled.
Thus, Shelton has turned to McCutchen, the 36-year-old designated hitter/outfielder. McCutchen has responded by hitting .303/.361/.333 with a double, a stolen base and four runs scored.
“He’s done a good job up there,” Shelton said.
McCutchen moving into the leadoff spot kind of came about by accident after Shelton was joking with him earlier this month when the Pirates were playing the Orioles in Baltimore.
“We were kind of scuffling and he walked out of my office, and I said you are going to lead off and play second base tomorrow. He was like ‘alright,’” Shelton said. “I looked at (bench coach) Don Kelly and I was like, ‘damn, I’m going to lead him off tomorrow’. So, I called him and said you are not going to play second base, but we are going to hit you leadoff.”
McCutchen is certainly willing to do what is best for the team and realizes he is the Pirates’ best current leadoff option. However, he batted third in 30 of his first 31 starts this season and feels he is more effective at the spot in the long term.
McCutchen is just 12 hits away from reaching 2,000 in his 15-year career and notched his 1,500th hit with the Pirates earlier this week. However, he wouldn’t mind contributing more RBIs to an offense that is averaging a mere 2.8 runs a game in May through 20 games.
“Hopefully, I can get the opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position,” McCutchen said. “When leading off, you don’t have that opportunity as much. Things come and go, though. We’ll see what happens.”
For now, McCutchen will try to spark the offense from the top of the order.
“What went into it is the fact that he controls at-bats,” Shelton said of his decision to bat McCutchen leadoff. “We were at the stage where we needed at-bats to be controlled. We needed to mix it up a little bit. He’s done a good job since he’s been up there.
“How long he will stay up there, I honestly don’t know — just what the function of what other guys do and how he feels. It was more comfort of getting a professional at-bat.”
The way the Pirates’ offense has struggled in the not-so-merry month of May, they need all the professional at-bats they can get.