5/15/2013 8:55 P.M. ET
McCutchen's slump-busting strategy: Just keep hitting
By Tom Singer and Steven Petrella / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- It is only the middle of May, but Andrew McCutchen has already weathered two long slumps this young season. In late April, he went through a career-long 1-for-28 drought, and he dealt more recently with a 2-for-19 drag.
He stormed out of the former with seven hits in his next three games. The latter preceded his 12th-inning walk-off homer that sealed Tuesday night's 4-3 win over the Brewers.
The trends vouch for McCutchen's often-expressed manifesto, placing greater emphasis on the process than on the results. The approach acknowledges that one cannot help if hard-hit balls are caught; all one can do is keep hitting the balls hard.
It is all well and good, and the trusted way from a .266 average to the .327 that McCutchen hit in 2012. But, he was asked point blank, how difficult is it for younger players to retain that confidence without the protection of six-year, $51.5 million contracts?
"It's different if you're heading to arbitration or concerned about other forms of negotiation," McCutchen said. "It can be tough, because it's a numbers game. No one is going to credit you for having hit the ball hard. They will point to what you hit.
"So it can definitely be stressful. But you just have to stay positive and believe in yourself and in what you are doing."
Mercer's quick return comes vs. Gallardo
PITTSBURGH -- Lefties have been Pedro Alvarez's kryptonite during his four-year career.
He has hit just .211 against southpaws, and he often finds himself on the bench when one takes the mound.
But Wednesday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sat his starting third baseman against a righty for the first time since June 5 for what Hurdle called a "performance break."
Alvarez is 0-for-15 career against the Brewers' Wednesday starter, Yovani Gallardo.
The same goes for shortstop Clint Barmes, who also took a seat in favor of Jordy Mercer, who was recalled earlier Wednesday from Triple-A Indianapolis after John McDonald went on the 15-day disabled list. Barmes is 1-for-17 career against Gallardo.
"I've seen them go to bat against this guy for two straight years," Hurdle said. "This is the third year, so we'll try something different."
The 26-year-old Mercer had played nine games for the Pirates this season. He was called up May 3 when second baseman Neil Walker went on the disabled list, then sent down Monday before making a quick return to Pittsburgh 48 hours later.
Entering Wednesday, the Oklahoma State product was hitting .258 with three home runs and four RBIs in 31 at bats, including a two-homer effort against the Mets on Saturday. For Hurdle, Mercer's performance this month and quick recall indicated a growing depth and strength throughout the organization.
"[To go] get Mercer, still fresh, who just left, it's good," Hurdle said. "And I'm able to plug him right back into the lineup, which is another benefit."
For now, Hurdle OK with lefty-heavy rotation
PITTSBURGH -- Having three left-handed starting pitchers is quite rare, the evidence being that the Pirates and the Dodgers are the only National League teams to currently have that rotation imbalance.
Having the southpaw threesome start on consecutive days is even more unusual, but that is what the Bucs wound up with when Francisco Liriano finished his rehab and stepped into the spot of James McDonald, who was following Jeff Locke and Wandy Rodriguez until he went on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort.
Liriano is set to start Thursday's finale of the four-game series against the Brewers, marking the second straight time the Bucs will have the three lefties follow one another to the mound -- something that had last happened here in 2010, when the names were Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Brian Burres.
An off-day Monday would allow Clint Hurdle to adjust the rotation, but he is not looking for an excuse to break up the lefty logjam. For one thing, entering Rodriguez's Wednesday start, the Pirates had won three straight games started by the southpaws.
For another, "all three are different," Hurdle said.
"Wandy and Locke are probably comparable," the manager added. "But I don't see that as being a bad thing. When one goes out and pitches well, the other has something to latch on to.
"I like the left-handers. I like having three in the rotation. Time will tell, but I'm not sold on switching them up right now. If we need to later, we'll consider it."
• Michael McKenry spent early-afternoon drills taking grounders at second base and from there making throws to first. No, he is not looking for a Russell Martin-like moonlighting at a different position -- the drills were intended to have the catcher regain confidence in his arm by throwing under different circumstances.
"Just different throwing techniques to help him with the throwing mechanics:" Hurdle said. "Get him out of that mentality of being behind the plate and put him in a different environment. Hopefully it frees, tightens and sharpens him up."
• The Pirates' win Tuesday night was their first since at least 1964 in a game in which they had gone 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position; the Elias Sports Bureau's data does not revert past 1964.
The last MLB team to win under those conditions was Hurdle's Rockies in 2008, under remarkably similar circumstances, as they beat the Reds by the same score (4-3) in a game of the same duration (12 innings) despite being 0-for-16 with men in scoring position.
• Not only did Brandon Inge make his first big league appearance at short Tuesday night after John McDonald was shelved by lower-back stiffness, but he was the middle man in a 12th-inning double play.
"Like riding a bike," the 35-year-old veteran said, sheepishly.
First number, last word
4: Walk-off home runs by McCutchen, tied for second most in club history with Roberto Clemente, Dick Stuart and Richie Hebner. Ralph Kiner and Willie Stargell share the lead with six.
"He's a smaller guy. He's not Whitey Ford, but he reminds me of the days my father used to explain Whitey Ford to me with, 'He's not the biggest guy in the park, but he gets all the big guys out.'" -- Hurdle, comparing Jeff Locke to the Hall of Fame left-hander.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.