BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen has kept himself out of sight. Yet he has never been more visible. He has hardly been on a Grapefruit League field. But now, he is all over the place, in many of the places bigger than life.
The face of the Pirates stares back at shoppers, eyeing them as if they were hanging curveballs, in stores across the country and websites across cyberspace. Tuesday marked the official release of MLB '13 The Show, with McCutchen taking his well-earned and richly deserved place on the popular game's cover, and this time, there was no failure to launch.
McCutchen has another launch in the works -- leading with that same face. On Tuesday, he revealed that he plans to revive his running game by returning to the headfirst sliding style he used successfully earlier in his career.
But while McCutchen's likeness was at the center of huge displays in stores on Tuesday, he was not on display at McKechnie Field, where the Pirates defeated Team Spain, 10-0. Eleven exhibitions in, the center fielder has seven Grapefruit League at-bats. He is not alone among Pirates regulars who, given a Spring Training schedule extended by the World Baseball Classic, are on a slow ramp to the season.
"We're absolutely staying slow with them," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Maybe next week some of the regulars will start to get into some back-to-back games."
"It's a longer Spring Training than normal, so you want to pace yourself," McCutchen concurred. "If I ever feel like I need more ABs, of course I'd tell them. But it's good to be able to kind of relax, and I'm feeling good where I'm at. We'll get back into it slowly, and I look forward to cranking it up a little more in the near future."
In other words, the zone awaits, and McCutchen will get into it. And when he does, more people will watch him than at any point before. In retrospect, he has a hard time believing he actually prevailed in the online campaign to land MLB '13 The Show's cover, considering the high-profile competition from bigger-market players.
McCutchen's fans really came through. With the exposure comes responsibility and burden, and McCutchen is ideally composed to handle both.
"I feel the same -- really, no difference," McCutchen said of his new celebrity. "I felt great last year, confident in what I could do, and I showed that during the season. With that comes all the accolades -- The Show, the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger -- but I'm still the same person. I still have the same confidence.
"With all that comes a lot of demands on your time. You can't do it all. You also have to take care of your body, get rested up for the season. I did have a productive offseason, but at the same time, I shut it down when I had to shut it down and got the rest I needed. If you don't, it will run you right into the ground."
The only kind of running McCutchen intends to do is from one base to another. He doesn't know how he became so honest -- since stealing 75 bases in 97 attempts through late August 2011, he has swiped merely 23 of 38 -- but he wants to get his crook back on.
"It's going to be on me, getting to the next bag," McCutchen said, "having the confidence to get there and not worry about going the other way. Basically, it's about getting back to where I was once before: Not being afraid to go whenever. I look forward to doing that this year.
"I'm going to be sliding headfirst this year. I feel like that kind of helps me get there a little quicker, instead of having to pull my momentum back to slide feetfirst. I've done it in the past. I did it in the Minors, and I did it when I was first called up. I stole more bases, and I really don't know what made me stop. I'm just going back to that and will try to get to that next base more."
McCutchen conceded the greater risk of injury in sliding headfirst. Of course, there is no room for trepidation in an athlete's mentality.
"I'm wearing a protective guard on my wrist to prevent injury," McCutchen said. "I'm pretty confident doing it. It's not like it's anything new to me, so I'm just going to go out and do it, because it can help me out."
"No. 22 does what No. 22 wants, and if that's part of it, he'll figure some things out," Hurdle said. "Some people prefer staying away from it, but it's a baseball play. Andrew will find what he's most comfortable and most effective with."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less