CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Less time in the hot tub, more time on the field, this is the way Andrew McCutchen likes his springs.
“I mean, I feel like I’ve got a left and right leg this year,” he said Wednesday at Spectrum Field. “Not two right legs.”
McCutchen said he is finally feeling like himself again after tearing the ACL in his left knee in June 2019. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he no longer sees a limp when McCutchen stops running. Coaches see improved quickness. McCutchen just sees the possibilities of regular playing time and normal production over the course of a 162-game season.
A return to form would be a nice way to cap a three-year, $50 million contract, wouldn’t it?
“You work so hard and then you get rewarded, right?” McCutchen said. “You get this contract, you get this deal, all you want to do is play out that contract. Play to where you feel like, you know, I was worth what they gave me. You got the ACL injury [in 2019], then 60 games [in 2020], and you're like, ‘I haven't played a full season yet, you know?’ So yeah, to actually have the possibility of playing a full season and playing how I know I can play, I'm looking forward to that. Because I know what I'm capable of doing. I know it's still in there. I feel great. I feel strong. And, yeah, I'm looking forward to being able to compete every single day and to really play. Like I'm worth that contract, right?”
McCutchen compared his Spring Training routines from last spring to this spring to illustrate how much better he feels.
“Last year it was show up, get in the hot tub, get the trainer to get his hands on you, move me around, stretch me out, be on the table for 30 minutes, get in the weight room, get on the bike, do all this stuff,” McCutchen said. “Just so much stuff that I had to do before I even stepped foot on the field. Now it's just like, all right, cool, show up, have a smoothie, go in the gym, warm up, go in the cage, hit. That's where I'm at.”
McCutchen, 34, started 36 games in left field last season. He started another 16 at designated hitter, which will not be an option this year unless the league and union change their minds.
That’s OK. McCutchen expects his playing time in left field to jump significantly anyway.
“It better,” McCutchen said. “I mean, I don’t want to be treated like I’m 45. That number, hopefully, should be a lot better. I think last year was more seeing where I'm at, because it's not like I had rehab games last season to get myself prepared. I was just kind of just thrown into the fire, per se. And then it was like, ‘OK, this is what we see. How do you feel?’ Every day it was like a report. I had to go in and be like, all right, this is how I felt. ‘Hey, let's give you a day off tomorrow, get your legs back under you.’ Now, hopefully, it’s just more, ‘I already know how you feel. You look great. Keep going.’ Hopefully it gets to the point where maybe if I feel like I need a day, I can say, 'Hey, I could probably use a day tomorrow.'”
McCutchen hit .253 with 10 home runs, 34 RBIs, a .757 OPS and a 102 OPS+ last season. Interestingly, his slugging percentage (.433) remained relatively close to his average from the previous four seasons (.447), while his on-base percentage (.324) dropped more significantly from the previous four seasons (.358).
McCutchen thinks he knows why: he had not faced pitchers in a long time. He missed the final 102 games in 2019. He played only two Grapefruit League games in '20 before the spring schedule got cancelled. He played in only a few scrimmages at Citizens Bank Park before Opening Day.
“I was like, 'All right now, I'm back, but now I need to get back into the routine of baseball, seeing pitches, swinging, being selective,'” McCutchen said. “I was playing catch up in that department, to where I felt like my swing rate was probably essentially the same. But it was when I was swinging and making contact. I felt like that was off. I felt like when I was swinging, I wasn't hitting the ball how I wanted to hit the ball. It was more of hitting the ball into the ground. It was more of swinging and missing. That's why I felt like the walk rate went down, swing rate went up, strikeouts went up. It was just, 'All right, man, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to have yourself ready.' Do I feel like myself? Internally, yeah, I feel like myself, but looking on it, dang, I'm swinging and not hitting the ball or I'm missing the ball or I’m swinging out of the zone a little bit.
“It’s just getting recalibrated.”