CINCINNATI -- The placard above Andrew McCutchen's locker was replaced by a handwritten one on Saturday morning. The new one read: McKKKKutchen.
It was a teammate's light-hearted way of reminding the Pirates centerfielder that he went down on strikes four times in Friday's win over the Reds. Fortunately, McCutchen, who avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the third player in franchise history to strike out five times in a nine-inning game when he put the ball in play in the eighth, seemed to take the ribbing in stride.
While McCutchen's night wasn't pretty on the stat sheet, it hardly concerned Clint Hurdle. In fact, the Pirates manager actually liked most of what he saw. In particular, McCutchen's ability to maintain a desired position with his head, feet and hands on the pitches he didn't swing at is a sign, Hurdle believed, that McCutchen is not going to be stuck in this current funk for long.
"I thought he was tracking the ball better," Hurdle said. "He didn't get too big. They did pitch him pretty effectively, as well. I'm hoping that will spark him a little bit. I think it will."
McCutchen, who has just two hits in his last 28 at-bats, was back in the leadoff spot on Saturday for the second time in as many days.
"It's funny how certain things will spark someone," Hurdle said. "If nothing else, the ire of going 0-for-5 with four punchouts, that can light a fuse, too. He's got a lot of professional pride, and I expect this thing to turn around sooner rather than later."
Tabata turning Hurdle's words into action
CINCINNATI -- It was one of manager Clint Hurdle's first edicts: He wanted his players to be aggressive, to take chances, to run more. Two weeks into the season, Jose Tabata has run -- literally so -- with that challenge.
With seven stolen bases in 13 games, Tabata has shown no hesitation to put in play the extensive work he did with baserunning coach Luis Silverio during Spring Training. Silverio specifically encouraged Tabata to extend his leads and improve his positioning to be in a better athletic stance to make the most of his first step.
The two studied pitchers' moves, an exercise that has helped Tabata become much more adept at reading pitchers. Now, the first thing Tabata will ask Silverio, the team's first-base coach, when he reaches base is how long it takes for the ball to get from a particular pitcher's hand to home plate.
"That was one of the things he told me early, that he had problem reading pitchers," Silverio said. "Now, he feels really confident that when he takes off, he's going to make it. After a couple of steps, he maximizes his speed. He has explosive speed. He just doesn't look like it."
Tabata stole 44 bases a year ago, though 25 of those came while he was in Triple-A. In 102 big league games, Tabata swiped 19 bases in 26 attempts.
Tabata's chances to steal have been aided by the fact that he has been on base at least once in every game so far this season. Hurdle's only complaint now is that others haven't yet been able to follow the left fielder's lead.
"He's basically stealing all the bases that we have," Hurdle said. "I'm pleased with what we're doing, but I'm really looking for other people to get involved as well. I think he's pretty good with the fact that we know we trust him and have confidence in him. He has not picked a bad pitch to run on."
Weather proved challenging on Friday
CINCINNATI -- The sun peeking through the clouds in Cincinnati was a welcome sight on Saturday, given the dicey weather conditions of the night before.
In defeating the Reds, 6-1, on Friday, the Pirates endured some extremely harsh conditions. The rain, heavy at times, began falling midgame and continued until the end. But it was the wind that proved especially tricky.
"The only place I've been like that is in Candlestick Park," manager Clint Hurdle said. "With that much debris on the field, the wind, the rain blowing sideways, the rain is all over the place. You don't know where it's coming from. It's going left, right, I think sometimes it was going back up. Challenging conditions, to say the least."
The outfielders had the toughest job, given that the wind gusts repeatedly changed direction. Andrew McCutchen landed on the television highlight reels for a catch he made on what would have been a routine fly out to center, had the wind not interfered. McCutchen's speed allowed him chase down the ball as it was pulled into right field -- but just barely.
"When I would see the ball, I say, 'Oh, oh, oh,'" Jose Tabata said. "I [was] a little nervous."
After two unsuccessful attempts, Andrew McCutchen swiped his first base on Saturday. He took second after singling to lead off the game.
Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' 2010 first-round Draft pick, pitched five scoreless innings in an extended Spring Training game on Saturday. Taillon is spending some time pitching in extended spring training games before joining the low Class A West Virginia rotation.
Jeff Karstens, who will start for the Pirates on Sunday, went 1-6 in 11 road starts last season. The record is not impressive, but Karstens had little help. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven on those games. The Pirates' offense scored 14 runs in one of Karstens' road starts. In the other 10 combined, the team plated just 17 runs.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.