Bucs, Cutch searching for solutions to slump

Pirates considering options as swollen thumb contributes to CF's uncharacteristic struggles

Bucs, Cutch searching for solutions to slump

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen's sluggish start at the plate has stretched for nearly half of the season, and the Pirates are still looking for solutions.

McCutchen got the day off in the Pirates' Thursday afternoon game against the Giants at PNC Park, a 12:35 p.m. ET start after a long game Wednesday night. McCutchen's swollen right thumb has occasionally bothered him since late May, and he entered Thursday batting .238/.315/.401. Considering his thumb and his performance, might it be time to give McCutchen a more extended break?

"We've thought about a lot of different things, and we're trying them one at a time," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday morning. "So that could be an option here down the road. That's one that has to be brought into the conversation as well."

McCutchen's .716 OPS is by far the lowest mark of his career. Measured by adjusted OPS, the five-time All-Star has been 7 percent worse than a league-average hitter this season.

McCutchen is swinging and missing a career-high 12.5 percent of the time, and he's struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances -- a 10 percent jump from his National League Most Valuable Player Award campaign in 2013. The Pirates dropped him from second to third in the lineup.

"We've tried moving some things around. We've tried some different options, routines," Hurdle said. "He's tried some different things as well to try and spark performance."

McCutchen's ailing thumb has led to some of the uncharacteristic struggles -- as did the cause of that nagging injury. He said last month he had been gripping the bat too tightly, throwing off his swing and putting the brunt of the impact on a thumb that swelled up as if someone inserted a golf ball between his thumb and forefinger. The pain forced him out of a loss in Miami on June 2, when McCutchen said he wouldn't consider a trip to the 15-day disabled list. Sure enough, he continued to play through it.

According to head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk, McCutchen's thumb still requires a "maintenance routine" some days. But that wasn't the reason he was out of the lineup Thursday.

"Not specifically the thumb, no," Hurdle said. "Just overall, getting him off the field and getting him rest like we do for all the guys -- mentally, physically."

McCutchen is hitting .187 with a .500 OPS in June. During the rare stretches when McCutchen struggled in the past, the Pirates looked to make sure his upper and lower halves were connected at the plate -- that he wasn't out of balance.

That was part of the problem early last season, when he also battled a sore left knee in April, and he eventually rebounded into classic McCutchen form. What about now?

"There's connection. There's still three things he's trying to incorporate on a consistent basis," Hurdle said. "No. 1, getting his foot down early. No. 2, it's a good swing vs. a big swing. And No. 3, it's mistakes on the inside of the ball, not outside of the ball. A lot of balls still hit the pull side.

"The work that's been done early has been so clean and so efficient, it's just the transferring that work into the game on a consistent level."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.