McCutchen embraces growing leadership role

Pirates outfielder integral to team dynamic, Hurdle says

McCutchen embraces growing leadership role

SAN DIEGO -- After Saturday night's victory over the Padres, center fielder Andrew McCutchen made a pit stop at the foot of the left-field bleachers in Petco Park and handed his batting gloves to a pair of fans wearing Pirates colors.

McCutchen said he noticed the family of four cheering on the Bucs and waving the team flag as Mark Melancon whiffed Derek Norris to end the 5-2 win. McCutchen didn't stop to chat. He quickly sprinted toward the infield for a brief celebration.

"Story behind it? Nah," McCutchen said on Sunday before the Bucs closed out their four-game series and their only San Diego visit of the season. "It was some kids out there in old-school unis. I ran out there and gave them my batting gloves. I mean, way out here in San Diego to have some Pirates fans? It was pretty awesome."

This is all part of the 28-year-old All-Star taking a leadership role off the field as well as on it. On the field, he's on one of his patented tears. Heading into Sunday's action in the last 22 games after a slow start, McCutchen is hitting .380 (30-for-79) with 10 doubles, five homers, 17 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

Not coincidentally, the Bucs are 14-8 in those 22 games after opening 12-15. On Saturday night alone, he was on base four times in five plate appearances, smacking a single, an RBI-double and adding two walks.

But manager Clint Hurdle said McCutchen has become a go-to leadership guy in the clubhouse, too. Accordingly, the two meet every week to 10 days to discuss the team and any particular issues McCutchen might like to verbalize. One of those meetings occurred prior to Saturday's game as Hurdle ushered McCutchen into his office and closed the door for 15 minutes.

"The majority of what we talk about is pretty classified," McCutchen said. "We have a good relationship. I just go in and we talk about whatever we need to talk about. He just tries to let me know that the door is always open. If I have anything on my mind or anything I need to get off my chest, he wants me to be comfortable enough for me to go in there to tell him. And the same thing for him."

McCutchen is also a member of Hurdle's leadership council, consisting of players who meet on a weekly basis to air team issues.

Hurdle said the difference at the plate for McCutchen is that he "reconnected his swing."

"The lower half was not working with the upper half," Hurdle said. "Like many of our guys, out of the chute, they try to get a lot done early. He's not had a good April since I've been here."

In his seventh season, Hurdle is also relying on McCutchen for his insight and expertise.

"He's definitely a go-to guy," Hurdle said. "When we meet I just ask him, 'What can I provide for you? How can I support you?' Or at times I'll say, 'Here's my read. What do you have?' He might have the same thing. He might have something different. I go to him for thoughts, for barometer readings, from time to time. Have chats about his vision of how we're doing, how he's doing. He's an integral part of everything we do."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.