PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen is finally off and running.
After the Pirates waited a few weeks for McCutchen to begin using his speed to cause havoc on the basepaths, the speedy center fielder is beginning to take the chances most expected him to take right out of the gate. It seems to be no coincidence, either, that the increase in aggressiveness coincides with manager Clint Hurdle moving McCutchen out of the No. 3 hole and into the leadoff spot.
"A lot of times being third, I didn't have a lot of opportunities," McCutchen said. "Being the leadoff guy, you're going to have a little more of an opportunity to steal some bases in certain situations. It helps out."
It helps out, too, that McCutchen is reaching base again with regularity. Stealing bases was hardly a concern while McCutchen was mired in a 2-for-28 slump from April 7-15. Since then, though, he has reached base in 13 of 29 plate appearances. He's attempted to steal four bases during that span and has been successful three times. Those are his only steals of the season.
"When he got on before I think he was more concerned with not making an out on the bases," Hurdle said. "Now he's gotten on with more repetition and frequency. He's starting to get that swagger back. I put him back up top just because of the roots he's had there. Maybe it would give him better freedom and better familiarity, and maybe that could be helping out some."
McCutchen stole 33 bases in 43 attempts last season, but talked openly this spring about wanting to be even more aggressive this year.
Resop's work with pitching coach paying off
PITTSBURGH -- Daily shadow work in the bullpen seems to have done the trick for reliever Chris Resop, who has quietly been as reliable as anyone in the Pirates' bullpen this month.
During the team's first homestand, pitching coach Ray Searage suggested to Resop that he go out to the bullpen each day and mimic his delivery motion. No ball was thrown. Rather, the intent was simply to help Resop solidify a repeatable motion, particularly making sure that he didn't let his upper body go ahead of his arm.
Resop agreed to the work. He has thrived since.
"I said, 'I'll be here every single day,'" Resop said. "I don't care if I have to do it three times a day. This is my job. You've got to do what you have to do to be successful."
Since giving up two runs in an April 7 appearance, Resop has kept opponents scoreless in his last 8 1/3 innings. He's given up just two hits and struck out nine. Not only has Resop appeared to have found a respite from his usual slow-start tendencies, but he's also looked like a much different pitcher from the one who labored through Spring Training.
"I threw the ball well in spring, but I never felt completely comfortable," said Resop, who stranded two inherited runners in Saturday's win. "Why? I don't know. I just think it's been mechanical stuff. I knew what I needed to do mentally, but physically it just wasn't translating over. All of a sudden, mentally I knew what I needed to do and physically it worked."
Resop, who was a waiver-wire claim last August, has rapidly emerged as one of manager Clint Hurdle's more reliable late-inning options. Not that this success from the right-hander should come entirely as a surprise. In his two months with Pittsburgh last year, Resop posted a 1.89 ERA in 22 appearances.
"You're not always expecting them to come in and shut things down, but he's given up nothing here lately," Hurdle said. "He picked it up real quick once the season started. He's been as efficient as you could want a guy out of your bullpen."
Karstens expected to stay in rotation
PITTSBURGH -- Initially hesitant to definitively plug Jeff Karstens into the rotation for the entirety of Ross Ohlendorf's absence, the Pirates now appear ready to do just that.
Karstens is listed as the team's starter for Thursday's game, and manager Clint Hurdle confirmed on Sunday that he plans to keep the rotation as is for the time being. Karstens surely didn't give the Pirates any reason not to stick with him after giving the club an efficient six-inning performance on Saturday.
The Pirates are going to need a fill-in starter for quite some time. With only one off-day between now and May 22, the club doesn't have the luxury of skipping the fifth spot in the rotation from time to time. In addition, Ohlendorf recently speculated that it would be until about mid-May before he's ready to return from a shoulder injury.
The ability to keep Karstens in a starting role has been aided, also, by Daniel McCutchen's success. McCutchen assumed the long-relief role -- which had been Karstens' -- and has done nothing to warrant being removed from the big-league bullpen. McCutchen has not allowed a run in five appearances.
Olsen progressing, but still not close
PITTSBURGH -- Scott Olsen continues to slowly build up arm strength, but is still a ways away from being considered an option in Pittsburgh.
Olsen, who remained in Bradenton, Fla., when the team finished Spring Training, has been making up for time lost early in camp when he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. There has been progress this month, general manager Neal Huntington said, though it's been a much slower process than Olsen had anticipated.
"Good days and other days where, it's not pain, but it's just not coming out the way he wants it to," Huntington said. "So we take a step back and let him continue to rebuild arm strength. The thing that we sometimes lose is that he was coming off of an [arm] injury to finish the season last year and probably would have been behind in Spring Training as it was. The hamstring injury ultimately set him back even further."
Olsen has been throwing bullpen sessions and has appeared in one extended Spring Training game. He is scheduled to throw in a second this week.
Right-hander Jose Ascanio, who was hit in the right side of his head by a line drive during a rehab appearance with Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday, could return to the mound as early as this week, general manager Neal Huntington said. ... Outfield prospect Starling Marte entered Sunday with a 12-game hitting streak and a 14-game on-base streak with Double-A Altoona. "He's off to a good start for a young player at an advanced level," Huntington said of Marte, who had not played above Class A before this season. ... Coming into Sunday's game against the Nationals, the Pirates remained the only club in the Majors without a triple this season. Pittsburgh's last three-base hit came off the bat of Garrett Jones on September 24, 2010.
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.