Andrew McCutchen can give great answers with nothing more than a facial expression.
That was the case Sunday night when I asked the Pirates center fielder the question that has been on everyone’s mind for the first two months of the season.
Are you finished?
McCutchen pulled his head back, rolled his eyes and then broke into a big smile. He then gave the slightest of chuckles and walked away to begin preparing for a game the Pirates lost 7-2 to the New York Mets at PNC Park.
One didn’t have to be know much about the art of body language to understand the 30-year-old McCutchen thinks the idea that anyone would think he is washed up is ludicrous.
McCutchen went 1-for-4 on Sunday night with a single and a strikeout to finish the three-game series 4-for-11 with a double and a home run.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided to drop McCutchen to No. 6 in the batting order at the start of the series and he hit there in all three games. Prior to the weekend, McCutchen had never batted lower fourth in his nine-year career.
Dropping a slumping hitter down in the batting order is one of the most tried-and-true strategies in baseball. In fact, it was quite surprising that an old-school manager like Hurdle didn’t make the move earlier in the season considering McCutchen is still hitting just .213 through 49 games.
In fact, it seemed like a logical idea last year, too, when McCutchen needed a strong performance over the final two months to finish with a .255 average. When I asked Hurdle about the idea of temporarily sliding McCutchen down in the order last June, he clearly wasn’t thrilled by the question.
The most encouraging sign from McCutchen over the weekend was the restoration of much of his lost bat speed. He was no longer a split-second behind on pitches. Most of his outs came on hard contact and he absolutely hammered a home run to dead center field Saturday night.
“He was on pretty much everything we threw him,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Hurdle said he can tell McCutchen is heating up just from watching the way he is taking pitches.
“His hands were in hitting position at all times,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes that can tell you more than how someone is actually hitting the ball. When you’re in good position to hit, success will usual follow.”
Which explains McCutchen why answered a tough question with a smile.