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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