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New Cutch proving better than the old Cutch

Pirates outfielder hits three homers in victory over Padres
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO - The way Andrew McCutchen sees it, he is not just back. He is better.

McCutchen's extraordinary turnaround continued Sunday in the Pirates' 7-1 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Pittsburgh's franchise player crushed three home runs: his 20th, 21st and 22nd of the season. He also made a diving catch in center field and helped the Pirates secured a much-needed victory after a disappointing, 3-6 trip.

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SAN DIEGO - The way Andrew McCutchen sees it, he is not just back. He is better.

McCutchen's extraordinary turnaround continued Sunday in the Pirates' 7-1 win over the Padres at Petco Park. Pittsburgh's franchise player crushed three home runs: his 20th, 21st and 22nd of the season. He also made a diving catch in center field and helped the Pirates secured a much-needed victory after a disappointing, 3-6 trip.

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It was McCutchen's third career three-homer game. He also went deep three times against the Nationals at PNC Park on Aug. 1, 2009, and against the Rockies at Coors Field on April 26, 2016.

"They're special days," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I told him that as he came off the field. It's just a special day."

What made this one more special for McCutchen? How he got here.

"I'm better than the old Cutch. With the experience, with what I've gone through, battling through the ups and downs, I'm better than that guy," McCutchen said. "I'm better than the old Cutch. The old Cutch wouldn't be doing what this Cutch is doing."

McCutchen never felt like himself at the plate last year, even as he rebounded down the stretch, and he found himself batting .200 more than a quarter of the way through this season.

In 56 games since his time off in late May and a since-reversed move down the lineup, McCutchen is hitting .369 with 16 homers and more walks (37) than strikeouts (35). Subjected to trade rumors throughout the winter and spring, McCutchen seems likely to stay put in Pittsburgh for now given his performance and the Pirates' place in the National League Central.

Video: PIT@SD: Cutch lays out to make a superb diving grab

But this is no longer just an incredible stretch. It has turned into a remarkable season.

McCutchen is slashing .292/.385/.535 on the year with a .920 OPS that would rank as his third-best for a full season. He is on pace to drive in a career-high 102 runs and post his second career 30-homer season.

"To be hitting .200 and to be where I'm at now, it doesn't happen a whole lot. Old Cutch wouldn't do that," McCutchen said. "He wouldn't be able to do that. He'd seen too much success, had success from the start. To be at the bottom and work my way up, I'm better than I was before."

He was on top of his game Sunday, too. He homered three times -- once off left-hander Clayton Richard, twice off reliever Jose Torres -- and walked twice. Patrolling center field, he flung his body forward to snare Yangervis Solarte's line drive for the final out of the eighth.

When McCutchen took two balls to begin his ninth-inning at-bat, second baseman Josh Harrison sat in the trainer's room and silently advised Torres to walk McCutchen. He didn't. McCutchen lined a 94.1 mph fastball off the bottom of the right-field foul pole.

By the time he knew it was gone, he was nearly at third base. McCutchen dashed around the bases, unsure if the ball ricocheted off the pole or the outfield wall.

"I just kept running until someone signaled something," McCutchen said. "It feels great. You're in a good position to hit. I wasn't missing anything. Just getting pitches to hit and hitting them, then able to hit it with some power. Felt good. Had a good day at the plate."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen