McCutchen wants to cut down on strikeouts

McCutchen wants to cut down on strikeouts

ARLINGTON -- Though he has begun to thaw out after a slow start to the season, posting a batting average that is 64 points higher in May than in April over the same number of at-bats entering Saturday's game, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen believes his swing is not where it needs to be yet.

He homered and singled in a run in Friday night's 9-1 win over the Rangers, but McCutchen was just as focused Saturday on the three times he struck out in the series opener. McCutchen entered play Saturday having struck out 49 times in 210 plate appearances this year, a strikeout rate of 23.3 percent, almost six points higher than his career rate.

"I definitely shouldn't be striking out as much as I've been striking out," McCutchen said. "I'm a guy that has a good feel for the zone, and when I get good pitches to hit, normally I hit them. But more times than not lately, I've been getting them and I've been missing them. I'm getting to two strikes more and having to battle. When I'm on and I'm feeling good, I get a pitch to hit, I hit it."

The longtime No. 3 hitter moved up to the second spot in the Pittsburgh order this year and has seen a higher percentage of strikes this season, perhaps because pitchers are less inclined to pitch around him.

"When you've got people behind you that are hitting, that are hot, it does make it a little easier for you as a hitter to get more pitches to hit," McCutchen said.

McCutchen was hitting .290 (27-for-93) in May entering Saturday's game against the Rangers after hitting .226 (21-for-93) in April. McCutchen was tied for fourth in the National League with 33 runs scored.

"Hitting in that second spot enables him an opportunity to score more runs than he ever has before as a player, and that in and of itself will help our club," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Worth noting

• Hurdle gave Jung Ho Kang the night off Saturday after his game-breaking three-run homer the night before. The skipper said the Pirates organization has invested heavily in manpower and analytics to determine how best to keep players fresh, and that requires some unorthodox methods such as resting a hot-hitting player, Hurdle said.

"Recovery has become as big a part of our game as our preparation has," Hurdle said, adding that players have bought into the idea of regular rest. "It's not the way it was … they know we're going to be proactive."

Matt Joyce got the start at designated hitter Saturday for the third time this season; Joyce was hitting .339 with five homers and 15 RBIs despite limited playing time due to the Pirates' established outfield of Starling Marte, McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. Joyce had 70 at-bats in the season's first 40 games this year. Hurdle said Joyce's one reservation before signing as a free agent with Pittsburgh during the offseason was whether he'd be able to get enough at-bats with the Pirates' crowded outfield.

"Another guy that had had some success and then had some failure -- he was hungry and he had an edge and he wanted to find a place to do it," Hurdle said. "He was a good addition for us and he's gotten off to a really clean start."

• Reliever Tony Watson rejoined the Pirates on Saturday after going on paternity leave. The Pirates sent reliever Kyle Lobstein to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room for Watson.

• The Pirates promoted shortstop Cole Tucker, their first-round pick in the 2014 Draft, from Class A West Virginia to Class A Advanced Bradenton. Tucker, 19, batted .262 with four doubles, two triples and a homer in 15 games with West Virginia.

Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com based in Ft. Worth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.