Game 40: How ’bout a little love (and some runs) for Cole?

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

ColeMoundGerrit Cole’s been pretty good over his last six starts. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates’ offense in that span has been awful.

Cole’s put up a 2.08 ERA and a .197 batting average against. He’s been charged with two or fewer earned runs in each of those half-dozen outings. His 2.08 ERA since April 14 is second best in the NL behind Lance Lynn’s 2.06.

Yet, the Pirates have scored a total of five runs while Cole has been on the mound over his past five starts. His 1.98 run-support average is lowest among major league pitchers.

>>> PLANET OF THE ACHES UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Gregory Polanco was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday, with a sore left hamstring. Outfielder Danny Ortiz was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. … Jameson Taillon‘s pathology report confirmed he had testicular cancer. He will be re-evaluated next week and has been cleared to play catch and do light cardio workouts. There is no timetable for when he will return to game action. … Josh Harrison was given a scheduled day off on Wednesday. Harrison said he’s healthy. … Right-hander Nick Kingham, who’s on the way back from Tommy John surgery, was cleared to rejoin Indy’s rotation.

>>> I didn’t realize Bryce Harper’s laser shot in the ninth inning last night was his first homer at PNC Park, which means he now has gone deep at every NL ballyard. It took 14 games and 58 plate appearances before Harper finally put a ball over the Clemente Wall. “I knew that,” Harper told MASN’s Dan Kolko. “So I’m able to get that out of the way and definitely happy to check it off the list.”

The ball  flew off the bat at 112.6 mph (or, for those who don’t speak Statcast, really fast) and would have reached the Allegheny River if it handed banged into the top row of seats.

>>> John Jaso is taking a lot of heat for his slow start at the plate, including from the fan last night who screamed, “Cut your hair!” after Jaso struck out. And, yeah, even Jaso will admit that he’s never going to win a Gold Glove in the outfield. But you cannot dispute the guy’s effort, especially when it produces a web gem …

https://twitter.com/statcast/status/864705394941337600

>>> Here’s a quick take from assistant GM Kyle Stark about RHP Hai-Cheng Gong, the international free agent signed on Monday out of China: “We think he’s got some upside as he fills out. We like how the arm works and see some growth potential with his secondary stuff, especially the changeup.” Stark indicated it’s too soon to say whether Gong projects as a starter or reliever: “We will look to get him to (rookie level Bradenton) and go from there.”

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Nationals 8, Pirates 4: “He was out there giving everything he (had). Sometimes, giving everything you’ve got gets in the way.”

Notebook: As his native country bleeds, Rivero yearns for an end to the unrest.

When you use this link, a portion of ticket proceeds from the June 13 game vs. the Rockies will be donated to the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

Thon2016

>>> Wednesday: Nationals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals (25-13): Trea Turner 6, Jayson Werth 7, Bryce Harper 9, Ryan Zimmerman 3, Daniel Murphy 4, Anthony Rendon 5, Brain Goodwin 8, Jose Lobaton 2, RHP Jacob Turner (2-1, 3.31) 1

Pirates (16-23): Adam Frazier 7, John Jaso 9, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Merer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06) 1

Gamecast: The Nationals have not faced Cole at PNC Park since 2015. In his two career starts vs. the Nats at home, Cole is 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA. … Only one current National has homered off Cole. It’s not Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon. It’s Michael Taylor, who went into this series with 24 homers in 807 career at-bats. … Then again, Taylor has flashed some power lately. On Sunday, he mashed a two-run shot in the eighth inning to produced a 6-5 win vs. the Phillies. It was his second home run this season. … Through Monday, there was a Nationals player atop the MLB leaderboards in batting average (Ryan Zimmerman), OBP (Harper), slugging percentage (Zimmerman), OPS (Zimmerman), runs (Harper), hits (Zimmerman), total bases (Zimmerman), intentional walks (Harper) and extra-base hits (Zimmerman).

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88). Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98)

>>> Friday: Phillies at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71). Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

>>> Saturday: Phillies at Pirates, 4:05 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63). Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

>>> Sunday: Phillies at Pirates, 1:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40). Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Twilight for McCutchen

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

Andrew McCutchen is now just another player on the Pirates’ roster. Nothing special. He has no cachet, no stature with management.

That’s how it appears, at least, after what transpired CutchAtBatlate in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss against the Nationals. And, to be sure, McCutchen and his teammates have taken notice.

In the seventh inning, the Pirates scored three runs to pull within 6-4. With a runner on third base, McCutchen stuck out swinging to end the inning.

Manager Clint Hurdle then removed McCutchen from the game as part of a double-switch. Jose Osuna, who entered as a pinch-hitter and delivered an RBI single in the seventh, stayed in to play left field. Adam Frazier replaced McCutchen in center.

No long ago, it would have been laughable to suggest switching out McCutchen, a five-time All-Star and former MVP, in the late innings of a two-run game.

Yet, this version of McCutchen is batting .206 with a .670 OPS, and is on pace for 121 strikeouts. Remember how badly he scuffled in the first half of last season? His performance at this point is much worse than it was a year ago — after 39 games in 2016, he was batting .248 with an .805 OPS.

Explaining the move, Hurdle said he knew Osuna, who was in the No. 9 spot, would get another at-bat. If McCutchen stayed in the game, Osuna’s spot would go to a relief pitcher, then later to either Chris Stewart or Gift Ngoepe as a pinch-hitter. “There was no guarantee we’d get to (McCutchen’s No. 3 spot) again,” Hurdle said. “So that’s why he was taken out.”

With two outs in the ninth inning, Osuna singled and Frazier doubled. Josh Harrison struck out to end the game — with Stewart, who would have pinch hit in what was McCutchen’s spot, standing on deck.

After the game, McCutchen made a quick getaway. He was not in the clubhouse when it was opened to the media. 

UPDATE 7:32 p.m.: I spoke with McCutchen one-on-one this afternoon. You can read his comments here …

I did speak with a couple other players, who brought up McCutchen’s situation without being prompted. The vibe was not good.

CutchLookUpYes, McCutchen is struggling. Everyone can see that. But when the Face of the Franchise — a guy with a team-friendly contract who was nearly  traded last winter, who then was moved out of his long-time position a couple of weeks later, who faces another position switch to left when Starling Marte returns, who almost certainly will be dealt away by the end of July like he was Nyjer Morgan or Jose Tabata or Alex Presley — is benched in favor of a rookie who wasn’t even on the opening day roster, regardless of the outcome in a game, it hits guys hard. They start looking over their shoulders. If it can happen to McCutchen, who’s next?

This kind of thing is how managers lose their clubhouses. It drives a wedge. It does not end well, even if just in the short term. The situation with McCutchen, Pirates management and the condition of the clubhouse will bear watching as May melts into June and on toward what could be a turbulent July.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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