McCutchen plans to be ready by Opening Day

February 19th, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The way the Phillies see it, 2019 could have been much different. At least offensively.

They held first place in the National League East the first two-plus months of the season. They had the fourth-best record in the league, behind only the Dodgers, Brewers and Cubs. Then they lost .

McCutchen tore the ACL in his left knee on June 3 in San Diego. The Phillies played six games under .500 the rest of the way.

There were a lot of reasons why the Phillies played poorly in the season’s final four months. The rotation underachieved. The bullpen suffered a rash of injuries. More than a few people inside the organization thought former manager Gabe Kapler’s style played a role. But the conversation always included McCutchen’s absence from the leadoff spot. It stunted the offense, which is why everybody is so closely watching McCutchen’s recovery this spring.

He believes he will be ready by Opening Day on March 26 in Miami.

Can he be the same player?

“There’s no ‘hope’ in my mind. There’s a ‘know.’ I know what I can do,” McCutchen, 33, said. “I know what I’m going to do, and I know what I am doing. That’s the end of it.”

McCutchen slashed .256/.378/.457 with a 115 OPS+ in 262 plate appearances before the injury. He posted a 1.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. (The Phillies mention that McCutchen had been on pace to be a 4.0-plus WAR player.) Phillies leadoff hitters (essentially McCutchen) ranked second in baseball with a .379 on-base percentage and fifth with a 123 wRC+ through June 3, according to FanGraphs.

They ranked 29th with a .295 on-base percentage and tied for 29th with a 79 wRC+ the rest of the season.

“I’m sure it kind of put a damper on the rest of that road trip,” McCutchen said, looking back at his injury in San Diego. “But you can’t necessarily pinpoint why. Everyone always wants to know, ‘What was the reason? Why?’ It’s nice to think, ‘Oh, it’s because I got injured.’ I don’t think that, really. It maybe had a little to do with it. But I think it’s just us as a full team together having to grow and learn how to play together.

"[We had] a lot of new faces last year. We never played collectively as a whole, like trying to figure out what we have to do to dive deeper. Sometimes that happens. Think about when LeBron [James] went to play in Miami with [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh. A superstar team. They didn’t pan out the way people expected. But they stayed together, and the next year they started to win.”

McCutchen opened camp Monday behind his teammates. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said they plan to bring him along slowly, meaning nobody should expect to see him in a Grapefruit League game this weekend.

“I had an ACL injury when I was in high school,” McCutchen said. “To kind of compare the two, as far as a process goes and rehabs, it’s a lot quicker. You’re doing things a lot faster than you did 16, 17 years ago. At the same time, I’m not 16 rehabbing. I’m 33 now. Twice my age from then. Things are going in the right way. My mind is stronger, my body sometimes isn’t as quick at responding at times. But I feel like I’m in the right spot where I need to be. I’m out there doing everything. I don’t have any limitations. It’s just about going out there doing everything 100 percent. Some things I’m doing pretty good. Some things I’m still working on. But I’m doing it.”

It is why he believes he will be ready by Opening Day.

“That's the plan for me,” he said. “The plan for me is to be ready. I'm doing everything I've got to do to get ready. Most times I'm getting here at 8 o'clock and leaving at 3, and I'm not sitting down. I'm on the go, I'm on the go. Like right now, I'm about to leave right here, get in the pool to warm up, and just grind today. That's what I'm going to continue to do until I'm ready.”