Strike zone bugs Cutch

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH – Andrew McCutchen, mired in the worst long-term slump of his major league career, suggested on Wednesday that a revamped strike zone is at the root of his problems.

McCutchen entered Wednesday’s homestand finale against Seattle with a .241 average and .717 OPS. His career average is .293 and career OPS is .870. He has struck out 103 times in 374 at bats.

Nearly two-thirds of the way through the season, McCutchen is still searching for answers.

“Its been a grind, it’s been a different game,” McCutchen said. “Things don’t seem to go the way you want them to go but, hey, you can’t use that as an excuse. You have to keep going out and keep playing hard.”

McCutchen said that when he was with the Curve, he remembered starting a season hitting around .200. He said he recovered in the second half of the season to salvage the year.

“I’ve been through the failures of the game,” he said. “I know myself. I said before a long time ago, you might see me struggle, but you won’t see me quit. I’m going to keep going, keep working hard, keep grinding. Just hope that things will start to turn around. That’s all you can do.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said McCutchen has been receptive to suggestions from the coaching staff and has tried to implement changes. Hurdle said McCutchen has tried “a handful of different things” this season.

“It’s not one of those things where you can just sit around and say it’ll come,” McCutchen said. “You have to be real with yourself and know it’s not there and we need to figure something out. That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been working at it.”

McCutchen said that sometimes pitchers have made good pitches against him.

“We hit mistakes, and sometimes they don’t make them,” he said.

But he was also adamant that he thinks too many calls have gone against him.

“You can’t control when you get a pitch you know is a ball and they call it a strike,” he said. “All you can control is your approach, getting your pitch and then hitting it. Sometimes you just have to move on and (say) hey, I gave it everything I could and get ready for the next pitch.”

McCutchen has been swinging and missing more than he has in the past. He’s been called out on strikes more often, too.

He maintains that the strike zone has changed this season.

“If people watch baseball a lot, I think they can see that,” he said. “I won’t accept pitches that are balls that are called strikes. I won’t go, oh that’s just one pitch. Because that changes the whole at bat. A lot of people don’t understand that.

“Have the percentages gone up? Yes, I’m sure strikeouts overall in baseball have gone up. I’m sure the numbers are pretty high compared to years past. I don’t have to look at that to know, just because of our team alone. Sometimes we have to address the elephant in the room.”

McCutchen said the difference in this year’s strike zone is “drastic.”

“The strike zone is a little different than it has been in the past,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

McCutchen started the season batting in the No. 2 spot. The Pirates moved him back to his familiar No. 3 position, but the struggles have continued.

Hurdle is regularly asked if he would consider dropping McCutchen to a lower spot in the order. It’s a sensitive subject.

Hurdle indicated he has not discussed the subject with McCutchen.

“It’s all about timing and presentation of the conversation,” Hurdle said. “And Andrew is a very aware guy. So at an appropriate time and place, that conversation will be initiated from this desk to that player, if it’s him or whoever it might be.

“We’ll see what the future has to hold.”

Hurdle declined to comment on whether he’s close to having that conversation with McCutchen.

“I am well aware of where we are offensively and where Andrew is offensively,” he said. “It’s a daily thing that I revisit on what’s best for him, the organization and the ball club.”

Hurdle said that having ball/strike calls go against a hitter can be a factor, but added, “there can be pitches to hit after that and aren’t getting hit. It’s a combination of things. It’s never one thing. It does make it more challenging at times, though. There’s no doubt.”

Asked if he thought McCutchen’s issues with the strike zone are the cause of his diminished production, Hurdle said, “It’s a piece of the pie. Is it a large piece? I don’t think it’s a large piece. I think it’s a piece.”

Injury update

Trainer Todd Tomczyk offered these updates on injured players:

n Chris Stewart (knee): “Continues to ramp up the baseball activity. He ran the bases today. We’re going to ramp up baseball activities again over the weekend and see where that takes us for next week.”

Stewart could be ready to play rehab games by late next week.

n Chad Kuhl (triceps): “He has resumed playing catch on flat ground. We’ll take it day by day.”

n Tyler Glasnow (shoulder discomfort): “Time to take a pause, slow it down and get the inflammation out of there.”

n Austin Meadows (hamstring): Headed out on rehab from Class AAA Indianapolis soon.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com