Colin Dunlap: All Pirates Can Do Is Press On
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There seems to be a bit of disconnect in Piratesville.
First the known: Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is hurt. He’s got something called an avulsion fracture involving the costochondral cartilage of the left 11th rib.
That’s too technical for me.
I’m from Sharpsburg, where we’d just say McCutchen’s rib is busted.
For now at least, McCutchen won’t be placed on the disabled list, electing instead to try to come back before 15 days and making his, in western Pennsylvania, a rib that will be talked about more than Adam’s.
That said, though, how did it happen? And here is where the disconnect comes in.
When McCutchen took a swing in the 8th inning of Sunday’s game against Arizona, he winced and was in obvious pain, needing help to the clubhouse after gingerly hobbling down the dugout steps.
That came one day after he was drilled in the spine by a Randall Delgado fastball — with obvious intent — forcing McCutchen to the ground and Delgado to the showers early.
So is there a correlation between the pitch McCutchen was hit with and the injury?
“I don’t want to count that out,” McCutchen said. “Because I take a million swings a day. One swing and, all of a sudden, that happens?
“So, I’m not too certain, could it have had something to do with it, it could have had something to do with it.”
For his part, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle threw aside such a notion, thinking the injury independently happened on the swing and had zero to do with the beaning.
Hurdle went so far as to refer to the situation where people wanted to connect the two as “a conspiracy theory.”
That’s some disconnect, isn’t it?
I have covered McCutchen since his first game here in Pittsburgh, been in countless media availabilities of his and I know something: I’ve never seen him as steely-eyed and focused as he was Tuesday as he answered my question about if the hit batsman could have been the reason he is now hurt.
McCutchen’s eyes were shooting laserbeams.
Translation: He’s still very much upset about the situation that will keep him out for an unspecified amount of time.
A hunch here is that Hurdle was being diplomatic in describing the situation, trying to put the game of eye-for-an-eye in Arizona behind this team while McCutchen wasn’t nearly ready to let it go.
And good for him.
But that’s just the part of it. Now for the residual and trickle down with the Pirates needing to deal with the very real possibility that McCutchen could be out an extended period of time. For now, Starling Marte — just back from a concussion — is in center with Josh Harrison looking to slide to left, maybe with some Travis Snider sprinkled in.
How will this club go about losing the man — whether for the short or long term — who leads them in virtually every offensive category and is the undeniable face of this franchise?
Second baseman Neil Walker wrestled to find the words. “Any time you lose one of the best players in the game of baseball, it’s not going to be easy,” Walker said. “There’s 25 guys on this team and it’s a team game. We’re going to have to play well. We’re going to have to not do anything different than we have before. Just going to have to come together as a group and push forward and weather the storm until he gets back.”
McCutchen is a guy who could have been headed for a second consecutive National League MVP before this might have derailed plans.
With the Pirates heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins 1.5 games back in the NL Central race, the uncertainty around McCutchen’s return was the incontestable scuttlebutt.
Hurdle talked about the ugly stuff that happened in Arizona as a way these Pirates have bonded and, perhaps, could use that same sort of cohesion during McCutchen’s absence.
“There’s a lot of different ways to galvanize a team,” Hurdle said. “I think there’s a test that you need to meet throughout the season to show that you’re a team. Those can happen during a game … what you look for is when those incidents arise, you stand up and you show up.
“We’ve been able to do that and meet that part of the challenge every time that it has happened.”
While Hurdle and McCutchen disagree on exactly how his busted rib happened, everyone in that Pirates clubhouse is in full agreement that, no matter how much time he misses, that span is probably going to be the biggest test this team faces all season.