Cutch's bat, body healthy this spring

Pirates OF looks like a good fit hitting No. 2 in lineup

Cutch's bat, body healthy this spring

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The ball came flying off Andrew McCutchen's bat, sailing over the outfield wall and landing beyond the boardwalk that surrounds McKechnie Field.

It was McCutchen's third home run of the spring, his third blast well past the left-field fence in the past four days. It was also another reminder that, unlike last spring, McCutchen is healthy.

"Got my power back. Got my legs back," McCutchen said Thursday before the Pirates' 7-2 loss against the Yankees. "It's just about using them now."

A little more than a year ago, McCutchen was scratched from the Bucs' lineup with what the club described as "lower body soreness." He said Thursday he never received a specific diagnosis, only that his left knee was "more sore than normal."

McCutchen's numbers weren't normal, either. The five-time All-Star hit .194 in April, pulling one line drive to left field all month, and the Pirates' offense scuffled along with him.

"I couldn't do what I wanted to do. I couldn't prepare how I wanted to prepare. I had to compensate for certain things," McCutchen said. "That's all that was. But my body is in good shape, so I'm in good shape. Don't have to worry about it now. As long as you feel good, you go out there and play good."

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McCutchen managed the pain last season and overcame his slow start, returning to his MVP form. He went on to hit .292/.401/.488 with 23 homers and finished fifth in the National League MVP Award voting, his fourth straight top-five finish.

McCutchen focused this offseason on leg workouts, building lower-body strength in a way he said he couldn't last year. On Wednesday, his second spring homer nearly flew out of Ed Smith Stadium. McCutchen followed that up Thursday with a solo shot off Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka.

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"Knee's fine. I feel good. Feel strong. Just remaining consistent with my routine and my approach," McCutchen said. "Out there on the field, not quite there yet. I don't want to quite be there yet. Physically I feel great. I'm in great shape.

"I feel pretty strong, as you can see."

Potentially as important as where McCutchen's latest moonshot went? Where it came from: the second spot in the lineup.

Castrovince: McCutchen embraces move to No. 2

McCutchen drove in 96 runs last season, tied for a career high but still short of where he should be given his elite-level production at the plate. That's one reason he found himself batting second on Thursday.

McCutchen went to the plate 158 times last season with two outs and nobody on. Only Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (164) found himself in that situation more often. Manager Clint Hurdle recently shared those numbers with McCutchen.

"We're looking at a lot of different things," Hurdle said. "Andrew hitting second is one of the things I want to take a good look at this second part of Spring Training."

McCutchen hasn't hit anywhere but third or fourth since 2011. The Bucs won't necessarily commit to moving McCutchen up in the order -- it's still Spring Training, the time to experiment -- but they're keeping an open mind.

"We have a reason behind everything we do, and this is one of those things," McCutchen said. "I'm all about trying to win, so if this is going to help propel us in that direction, I'm for that."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.