McCutchen breaks out to lead surging Pirates

Center fielder caps 5-1 road trip with two-run homer in big inning vs. Giants

McCutchen breaks out to lead surging Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- Four months into the worst season of his outstanding career, Andrew McCutchen has turned a corner. And the Pirates have rounded into form along with their star center fielder.

"I've turned something," McCutchen said after going 2-for-4 with a tiebreaking homer in the Pirates' 6-4 win over the Giants on Wednesday at AT&T Park. "I don't know if it's turning a page or a corner or something. Yeah, things are going well for us. Going well for me, too."

McCutchen's 17th home run, a 401-foot blast to left-center field off Matt Cain, punctuated the Pirates' six-run fifth inning, a series sweep of the reeling Giants and a 5-1 road trip that began in Los Angeles. It also capped a strong trip for McCutchen, who hit .391 with two homers, a triple, seven RBIs and more walks (five) than strikeouts (four) during the six-game swing.

McCutchen ended July batting .241 with a .719 OPS, 107 strikeouts and 35 walks in 97 games. It was uncharacteristic of McCutchen, the franchise player, former National League MVP and five-time All-Star. Looking for a way to jump-start him, manager Clint Hurdle kept McCutchen sidelined throughout the Pirates' three-game series in Atlanta from Aug. 2-4.

In 12 games since then, McCutchen has hit .317 with 12 walks and only eight strikeouts. The walks came first, as he drew seven in a six-game homestand last week. Then he came out west and started hitting, putting together four multi-hit games on the trip.

McCutchen wouldn't credit the benching for his turnaround, however.

"I will forever tell you that those three days had nothing to do with what I'm doing. I would've done this regardless," McCutchen said. "I might have five more hits in three games. Instead of hitting .240, I could be hitting .260. ... It is what it is, but it ain't got nothing to do with it, man. I knew I was going to be able to do what I needed to do, regardless."

Cutch cuts a rug at AT&T Park

McCutchen declared he was in a good spot after a ninth-inning single against Jeremy Jeffress in Milwaukee on July 31, shortly before he was informed he'd sit out the next three games.

So what led to this breakout, if not the mental break?

"I'm getting a pitch to hit and not missing them. That's the difference," McCutchen said. "Getting that pitch, taking a swing on it and hitting it. ... I'm seeing balls, taking those; getting pitches to hit and hitting them."

With McCutchen finding his form, the Pirates are hitting their stride. They're averaging 4.67 runs per game in August, and their six-run, fifth-inning rally looked more like the lineup that led the Majors in average and on-base percentage in April.

Most important, though, was the man in the middle of all of it.

"He's our guy. It's Cutch," closer Tony Watson said. "When he gets going, everybody is going, and it's a lot of fun. ... When he gets going, no one is stopping him. It's fun to watch."

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.