PHILADELPHIA - Armed with a new deal and ready to head back to Pittsburgh for the contests that count, Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen continues to finetune his game as spring training nears its end.
On Monday night against the Phillies, McCutchen, a 2011 All-Star who agreed last month to a six-year, $51.5 million deal, launched his fourth home run of the spring and upped his batting average to .304 in a 4-3 exhibition loss.
"He's made his presence known in the game, and I think now is the opportunity for everyone to know that Andrew is a Pirate," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's a lot of speculation outside of our clubhouse of what we're trying to do, and I think this was the appropriate time and the appropriate player to let everyone know that this was just another part of the plan."
Though he hit just .259 in 2011, McCutchen, 25, posted career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (89) while adding 23 stolen bases. He would have been eligible to become a free agent following the 2015 season.
But Hurdle, among others, is glad that won't happen, and called the new deal a "win-win for everyone."
"It's good for people to say that. But I look at is as it's just great to wake up and put a Pirates' uniform on every day," McCutchen said. "This is a franchise that has won, and while we've had our times of struggle, I think it's been all for the better. We are moving in the right direction.
"I just can't wait to get home, and play in front of our fans, and play for the city of Pittsburgh."
McCutchen is considered the linchpin of a core group the Pirates are relying on to turn the club around. And to do so, he received the second-largest contract in franchise history.
"In locking him, the commitment he's made to us and the commitment we've made to him is significant," Hurdle said. "It's significant for the fan base, it's significant for Andrew, it's significant for the players in the clubhouse and around the organization."
And now, it's time to show it. The Pirates will certainly lean on McCutchen early on, as the schedule is not easy. Pittsburgh will open vs. the Phillies this week, and will also play the Cardinals and Giants - the last two World Series champions - in the season's first month.
"We've had plenty of time to get together, get a feel for all of the guys. Right now, I feel we're in the position we need to be in as a ballclub," McCutchen said. "We know each other, and know it's just a matter of trusting each other, and having each other's back.
"We're ready to go."
McCutchen, who now has 12 RBIs this spring, will make $500,000 plus a $1.25 million signing bonus this year as the Pirates shoot for their first winning season since 1992.
"I know where I need to be, and I feel I'm in a real good spot right now," he said. "I just need to remember what I'm doing right, and just keep that same approach, and not change. I feel like if I can continue to do that, the success will follow."
The Pirates are counting on it.