Cutch, Diaz contributing in new spots

Pair are powering offense while batting 5th and 6th

June 11th, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Nineteen days ago, reached the nadir of the worst slump of his career while worked in Triple-A, waiting for another opportunity in Pittsburgh to present itself.

Now, Diaz and McCutchen are swinging arguably the two hottest bats in the Pirates' lineup. Batting fifth and sixth Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, both players continued to contribute in the Bucs' 3-1 victory over the Marlins, Pittsburgh's second straight win.

"Whatever it takes is what I'm going to keep doing," McCutchen said. "Hopefully we can continue this and keep getting some wins."

Diaz went 2-for-4 with a two-run double in the first inning, and McCutchen continued his turnaround by going 2-for-4 with a triple and an acrobatic -- if ultimately unsuccessful -- leap over Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto.

"Just lucky I didn't get hurt," McCutchen said, smiling. "I don't know. I'm lucky I didn't hurt myself."

While McCutchen was expected to be a key part of the Pirates' lineup, Diaz began the season with Indianapolis -- the fourth season in which he has spent at least some time in Triple-A. He would have enjoyed a longer stint and more exposure in the big leagues last year, but a series of injuries kept him on the disabled list as the Bucs cycled through five other catchers.

"It was something frustrating for everybody," Diaz said. "Now I've got the opportunity, thank God, so I'm going to try to enjoy every day and every opportunity the manager gives to me and try to help the team win."

This opportunity to play nearly every day came about following injuries to (concussion) and (left hamstring strain), and Diaz has taken full advantage of it.

In 14 games for the Pirates this season, Diaz is hitting .382 with a 1.050 OPS. Highly regarded in the Minors for his impressive defense and strong arm behind the plate, Diaz's bat took a significant step forward in 2013. He has continued to refine his approach and fine-tune his swing, and his Minor League success has translated to the big leagues.

"It's been fun to watch. He's had a blast," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Right now, he's in a good place. Both sides of the ball are playing well, and obviously he's gaining confidence."

Similarly, McCutchen appears to be playing with more confidence. His average dropped to .200 after an 0-for-5 night in Atlanta on May 23. He was out of the lineup the next day, relegated to late pinch-hitting duty, and sat out the following day as well. When he returned to the lineup May 26, McCutchen was batting sixth for the first time in his career.

In 16 games since reaching the Mendoza Line, McCutchen is batting .404 with three homers, four doubles and a triple, which he lashed to right-center field Sunday afternoon. It appears the flaw he identified in his swing has been corrected, and the extra work he's put in is paying off.

That stretch has improved McCutchen's slash line to .251/.328/.436 -- still well below his career averages, but closer than he was three weeks ago. So, is it safe to assume he's in a better place now than he was then?

"The numbers show, so, yeah," McCutchen said. "It's baseball. You've got to keep working, keep working, keep working. That's all I've been doing. That's all I'm going to continue to keep doing. It's not, 'Oh, I feel good now. I can just relax.' There's no time for that."