SweetSpot: Daniel McCutchen


Did I stay up until 2 a.m. watching the Pirates-Braves game that ended on the most controversial call since Jim Joyce ruined Armando Galarraga's perfect game?

Yes, I did.

And it was something.

Twitter exploded immediately, with sympathy coming from across the country for America's team. A Pirates fan who has lived in Italy for 19 years was watching the game and tweeted me in horror. Other Pirates fans called it the worst Pirates loss since the "Sid Bream Game" in 1992. Page 2 writer and Pirates fan DJ Gallo wondered just exactly where home plate umpire Jerry Meals had to go at 2 a.m. Joe Sheehan wrote that baseball is a wonderful game that deserves better than its umpires.

I simply said the call made me sad.

You can watch the video of the play in the bottom of the 19th inning that gave the Braves the 4-3 win. You can see a photo here. And a better one here. People tweeted that they saw a replay that was 100 percent conclusive that catcher Michael McKenry tagged out Julio Lugo (yes, Julio Lugo is still in the majors). Others tweeted that the replay they saw was 100 percent conclusive that the tag was missed.

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage (at least, it appeared to be him) tweeted back at me, saying, "Deal with it," meaning, I assume, that the team will have to move and not let it affect them. A Pirates beat writer said he'd never seen the Pirates clubhouse so fired up. Sheehan followed up with a great point: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle shouldn't be let off the hook.

Why? He didn't get All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan into the game, instead letting an obviously fatigued Daniel McCutchen throw his 92nd pitch of the game (previous season high: 52). Hanrahan had pitched two days in a row -- but had thrown only 25 pitches. And he hadn't pitched in five days before that. Hurdle, of course, was waiting for the save opportunity that never came. Even if Meals had called Lugo out, McCutchen still needed another out to escape the inning anyway.

Like the Joyce call a year ago, the day will be spent arguing about the need for instant replay, instead of admiring a remarkable baseball game that had seen both bullpens combine for 26 scoreless innings, including six from Braves reliever Cristhian Martinez. The debate is necessary, if not fun. You can also debate that baseball should have a rule that rotates the home-plate ump after 12 innings or 500 pitches or whatever. Maybe a fresher set of eyes would have gotten the right call.

Fresh eyes. Mine are tired right now. But I'll be back Wednesday night, watching more baseball, hoping for something remarkable to happen again in this sport we love.

I just hope it has a happier ending.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Pirates stuck with starters they've got

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
2:20
PM ET
Amazing what a few lousy starts in April can do to your team ERA, huh? Dejan Kovacevic on what the Pirates can (or can't) do about their awful numbers:
Of signing a free agent, Huntington said, "By the time we could sign and stretch out one of the free agent options, we'll have internal solutions."

Of a possible trade: "No one has excess starting pitching they are willing to give up. Additionally, it makes little sense to panic and give up a legitimate prospect to acquire a short-term-fit, fringy, bottom-of-the-rotation starter that might be an incremental performance upgrade."

It is hard to imagine at this point what would not represent an upgrade over the Pirates' current rotation, with mild exceptions for Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. As Huntington indicated, few teams go legitimately five deep, but this staff has yet to firm up more than two, if that many.

That said, there also cannot be many teams struggling this much with the No. 5 starter.

Daniel McCutchen was hit hard yet again in the epic loss Thursday, six runs on eight hits, including home runs by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, over 3 2/3 innings. His ERA through three abbreviated starts is 14.73, exactly as it was before the first pitch, and opponents are batting .360 off him with five home runs in just 11 innings.

He is a virtual lock to be optioned back to Indianapolis, and he seemed aware of that after the game as part of a visibly emotional interview session with reporters.

Huntington's confident about Ross Ohlendorf returning soon to the rotation, and he's pretty sure that Charlie Morton will pitch better (with a 16.55 ERA, he'll pitch better just by falling out of bed before his next start). The bottom line, though, is that when you know you're going to finish last (or close to last), there's little sense in spending blood or treasure on one more stopgap. You go to war with the guys you've got, and you hope that prospects Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson -- first-round draft picks, both -- are ready to contribute at some point between now and next summer.

Things really will get better, if only because they can't get worse. But this just isn't a decent rotation, and never really had a chance to be.

Meanwhile, McCutchen is just another great example of the fungibility of No. 5 starters (or if you prefer, another, lesser example of my lousy prognosticating). Here's what I wrote about McCutchen just a few weeks ago:
He'd better be a better pitcher this year, because last year he was really, really lucky to post that 4.21 ERA in his six starts. In McCutchen's defense, in 43 career Triple-A starts he's 20-15 with a 3.72 ERA and an excellent ratio (4.45) of strikeouts to walks. Of course, most people think pitchers who rely on changeups have a rougher transition to the Show than other sorts.

All of which is moot, for the moment. As long as Kevin Hart's battling Steve Blass Disease, McCutchen can throw as many changeups as he likes. Because with Charlie Morton ahead of him, and Hart and a cast of nobodies filling the rotation down in Indianapolis, McCutchen might be the safest No. 5 starter in the National League.

Safe? Really, Rob? If McCutchen isn't the first No. 5 starter to lose his job, he's close. Of course, a 14.73 ERA is funny that way, especially when it's accompanied by more walks than strikeouts. Last season in the majors, McCutchen gave up six home runs in 36 innings; this year, five homers in 11 innings. McCutchen and Morton will pitch better. But it'll be mostly Triple-A hitters who have to suffer their wrath.

No. 5 Starter Watch: Pirates

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
9:39
AM ET
Rest easy, Nation. All those burning questions about the Piratical rotation have finally been answered. Alan Dell:

    All Daniel McCutchen wanted was an opportunity. He never asked for anything else, though he knew in his line of work promises can’t be kept.

    When he began spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander was told he was going to battle Kevin Hart for the final spot in the pitching rotation — nothing more, nothing else.

    The 27-year-old never heard anything else until Monday when he was named the fifth starter and Hart was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis to find his control.

    --snip--

    McCutchen says spring training numbers don’t mean much, but in his case they do. In four Grapefruit League innings,

    he struck out three without issuing a walk. In 12 total innings (including minor league outings), he allowed one walk. On the flip side, Hart walked 13 in 4 2/3 innings.

    “I have been pounding the strike zone and throughout my career I haven’t walked many guys,” McCutchen said. “My goal in camp was to show that I am all about forcing contact and getting guys out within the zone. My philosophy here is that even if they hit it hard we have a great outfield.”

    McCutchen made his major league debut last year when he started six games for the Pirates and compiled a 4.21 ERA in 36.1 innings. He says he is a much better pitcher now.

    “In the last couple of weeks, I felt good with my breaking ball and my slider has gotten a lot better, which will elevate my game,” he said. “My change has always been there. It has been a big plus pitch for me. I got a lot of outs last year in the big leagues with it. I am thinking of adding another breaking ball pitch.”

He'd better be a better pitcher this year, because last year he was really, really lucky to post that 4.21 ERA in his six starts. In McCutchen's defense, in 43 career Triple-A starts he's 20-15 with a 3.72 ERA and an excellent ratio (4.45) of strikeouts to walks. Of course, most people think pitchers who rely on changeups have a rougher transition to the Show than other sorts.

All of which is moot, for the moment. As long as Kevin Hart's battling Steve Blass Disease, McCutchen can throw as many changeups as he likes. Because with Charlie Morton ahead of him, and Hart and a cast of nobodies filling the rotation down in Indianapolis, McCutchen might be the safest No. 5 starter in the National League.

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