AT&T Park — When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded right fielder Andrew McCutchen this past offseason, it seemed to signal a shift toward an all-out rebuilding phase. They had already dealt top starting pitcher Gerrit Cole two days earlier.
Yet, as McCutchen and the San Francisco Giants greet Pittsburgh on Thursday to begin a four-game set, the Pirates have a better record and are closer to a playoff spot (4 1/2 games out of the second wild card, to the Giants’ 6 1/2 games). It was the Bucs, not the Giants, who made a blockbuster trade deadline deal, acquiring starter Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays.
That leaves McCutchen, rumored to be a waiver trade candidate, a bit befuddled. Pittsburgh never made a midseason move like that when he was with the franchise, and the team perhaps relatedly never advanced past the division series.
“Getting Archer was a pretty big move for them,” McCutchen said. “I don’t think they’ve ever gotten an ace before when I was there.
“That’s a really bold, big move for the Pirates. Maybe this year is just a little different, considering in the past they maybe … didn’t make the move and probably learned from it.”
McCutchen is amid one of his most productive stretches of the year, hitting .353 with two home runs over his past nine contests. That’s elevated his OPS from .753 to .775 and likely made him a more attractive waiver wire target if the Giants (57-58) decide to shed expiring contracts before the Aug. 31 deadline.
Less than a week after catcher Buster Posey went through concussion protocol after taking a foul ball of his mask, catcher Nick Hundley is under the same supervision Thursday after taking a foul ball off his own head.
While manager Bruce Bochy said Hundley “feels good” Thursday and will take batting practice, catcher Aramis Ramirez is at AT&T Park on the taxi squad in case doctors rule Hundley out.
Starter Jeff Samardzija (shoulder) completed a successful bullpen Thursday, throwing 20 pitches, sitting down, then throwing another 20. He’ll throw to live hitters Monday in Los Angeles. If that goes well, he could make a rehab start afterward.
First baseman Brandon Belt (knee) took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran the bases Thursday. He’s on track to return from the disabled list early next week.