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Back in 3 hole, Cutch comes through in clutch

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates were off on Monday, but manager Clint Hurdle's phone still buzzed with a bit of business. It was a text message from Andrew McCutchen saying he was ready to move back up the lineup.

After dropping McCutchen to the sixth spot in the order last month, Hurdle said McCutchen would return to the No. 3 hole whenever he felt it was time. With Gregory Polanco struggling and McCutchen sizzling at the plate, McCutchen decided the time was Tuesday's series opener against the Rays at PNC Park.

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates were off on Monday, but manager Clint Hurdle's phone still buzzed with a bit of business. It was a text message from Andrew McCutchen saying he was ready to move back up the lineup.

After dropping McCutchen to the sixth spot in the order last month, Hurdle said McCutchen would return to the No. 3 hole whenever he felt it was time. With Gregory Polanco struggling and McCutchen sizzling at the plate, McCutchen decided the time was Tuesday's series opener against the Rays at PNC Park.

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In case there was any doubt, yes, the swing and approach McCutchen rediscovered over the past month followed him three spots up the lineup card. McCutchen delivered a game-tying double down the left-field line off Rays closer Alex Colome in the ninth inning. The rally would not last, however, and the Pirates lost the game in the 10th inning, 4-2.

"Just because I'm in a different spot doesn't mean the swing changes," McCutchen said. "Just have the same approach, not deviating from what I've been doing."

McCutchen hit third Tuesday for the first time since May 23, when his average fell to .200 in Atlanta. He spent two days out of the lineup, working to address a flaw in his swing, then returned to his MVP-level, face-of-the-franchise form as he batted sixth in 28 starts after that. McCutchen hit .380/.471/.690 with eight home runs, 24 RBIs, 17 walks and 19 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances during that stretch.

He didn't miss a beat Tuesday. Rays starter Alex Cobb no-hit the Pirates for six innings, but McCutchen's at-bats were among the team's best. He flied out a Statcast-projected 316 feet to right field in the first inning and flied out to end a six-pitch at-bat in the fourth. He singled in the seventh, recording the Pirates' second hit against Cobb, then delivered with runners on second and third base in the ninth.

"It doesn't surprise me. He's in a good place," Hurdle said. "I've let it go. He's going to hit there, and I feel he's going to hit there. It was good to see him come through and get that opportunity."

Hurdle and McCutchen spoke on the phone Monday about implementing the lineup switch Tuesday.

"I said, 'Go. Whatever's good for you on this one, I'm willing to ride it out with you,'" Hurdle said. "Because I really have confidence in him doing what's best for the team at the end of the day, I really do. I wasn't going to put a shelf life on it or an expiration date. I trusted it would work out."

The decision was McCutchen's to make, but it was not entirely about McCutchen.

Polanco is in the midst of a brutal slump, batting .227 with a .626 OPS in his last 25 games before going 0-for-3 on Tuesday. With McCutchen batting third, Hurdle slotted Polanco sixth and put switch-hitting Josh Bell (cleanup) and right-handed-hitting David Freese (fifth) between them.

"This was my decision. This is what I wanted to do," McCutchen said. "I know that this can help the team. With Polanco, he's battling some things right now at the plate. I feel good giving him that. He can have the sixth spot. The six spot has some hits left in it."

Any chance Polanco's move down the lineup will work out as well as it did for McCutchen?

"I think we'd probably be stretching it a little thin to think everybody we're going to put in the sixth spot is going to hit .385 for a month with eight home runs and 25 RBIs," Hurdle said, smiling. "The dynamic, though, yeah. Push him down, give it a chance to play out and see where it can take him."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco