It came out Sunday that the Pirates believed Andrew McCutchen was close to a return.
They weren't kidding.
A day after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he was "optimistic" about McCutchen's recovery from a fractured rib, the outfielder said Monday that he's planning to be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday when first eligible.
“I felt pretty good out there, made some good contact with some balls,” McCutchen said after a batting practice session. “I pretty much did everything. Swing and miss, check-swung, fouled balls off. None of that bothered me. I felt good to go.”
Hurdle said McCutchen was taking batting practice and running the bases prior to Monday, but the step forward was seeing breaking balls and pitches that weren't meant to be crushed. When he stood in against Double-A right-hander Jeff Inman without issue, McCutchen knew he was ready.
“If something’s going to be hurt, I’d feel it already,” he said. “That’s not an issue. I know, just from the first swing, if I’m going to be good or not. I felt fine the whole time.”
McCutchen will take some precautions to avoid further injury, saying he'll wear an EvoShield compression shirt with extra padding to protect his left side for the rest of the season, but otherwise he said he's back to normal.
It's a huge boost for the Pirates, who have struggled in his absence. The Bucs lost again Monday, their sixth straight loss. Without McCutchen, they're now 5-9 since he went on the DL.
What's unclear is who will sit with the All-Star back in the lineup. Travis Snider would appear to be the odd man out, but he's got a nine-game hitting streak in which he's batting .412 (14-for-34) with four doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and five runs scored. Phenom Gregory Polanco, meanwhile, has just one hit in his last 28 at-bats. His season line is down to .245/.313/.355 after Monday's 0-for-5 performance. A team with postseason aspirations doesn't often have the patience to wait around for young players to make adjustments -- see: Taveras, Oscar -- so Polanco owners should take note of who sits in McCutchen's return Tuesday.
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Hendricks Continues To Rock
Jake Arrieta has been the Cubs pitcher demanding your attention this season, but another right-hander has quietly been making a name for himself in recent weeks as well.
Kyle Hendricks, an eighth-round pick by the Rangers in the 2011 MLB Draft, turned in another strong outing Monday, holding the Mets to one run over seven innings in the Cubs' 4-1 win. The win was Hendricks' fifth in seven starts, and since allowing four runs in his major league debut on July 10 Hendricks has allowed just five earned runs in his remaining six starts.
Hendricks, who was acquired by the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade in 2012, doesn't dominate with overpowering stuff -- his four-seam fastball, per Fangraphs, sits at 88.8 mph -- but he manages to have success by keeping hitter off balance and keeping the ball in the yard.
The money quote came from Cubs manager Rick Renteria after the game.
"I know it's a short snippet, and he's been very, very good, but he is Maddux like in his execution and approach," Renteria said of Hendricks.
That's high praise, and certainly something to be taken with a grain of salt, but it explains the success Hendricks has found thus far in his major league career. He's due for some regression and the Cubs won't give him the run support to make him a must-own starter in mixed leagues from here out, but he's certainly worth a look in deeper leagues and when the matchup presents itself favorably.
Buxton Stops Here
A disappointing season came to a similarly disappointing end for the game's top prospect Monday.
The Twins effectively ruled out Byron Buxton for the remainder of the season Monday as he continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms that resulted from an outfield collision last Wednesday. Buxton avoided any broken bones in the collision with teammate Mike Kvasnicka, but with just under two weeks left in Double-A New Britain's season the Twins won't push their top prospect.
"I would doubt it," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Buxton making his return. "They're on the road for 11 days and he's going to be in Florida and we still have to go through the protocol to get him cleared. So I don't think we're going to mess with it."
It was a forgettable season for the prospect rated no. 1 overall by nearly every major scouting publication before the season. Before the concussion symptoms Buxton dealt with a wrist injury that cost him two months, so the 20-year-old finishes 2014 with just 31 games played and 124 at-bats over two minor league levels. Buxton hit .234/.307/.395 in those 31 games.
Ryan said he could still be a candidate for the Arizona Fall League, and it's likely -- given health and good fortune -- that we'll see Buxton's talents on display in the majors at some point in 2015.
National League Quick Hits: Starling Marte did his best McCutchen impression Monday, hitting two solo home runs and adding a double as well. His efforts couldn't stop the Pirates from falling to the Braves 7-3 ... Javier Baez hit his fifth home run in 14 games since being promoted, launching one that landed in the second deck of spacious Citi Field during Monday's ninth inning. The shortstop has a .233/.258/.517 line indicative of just how hit-or-miss Baez can be ... Brandon Phillips, who hadn't played since July 9 due to torn ligaments in his left thumb, was activated Monday. The second baseman went 0-for-4 in his return to the Reds ... Todd Frazier (back) also returned to the Reds lineup Monday. Frazier collected two hits in his first game since Thursday ... Trevor Rosenthal blew his sixth save of the season Monday, less than 36 hours after being yanked from Sunday's appearance due to wildness. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny continues to show unwavering support of his closer, so fantasy owners should, too ... Two NL hitters sent their teams home in walk-off fashion in extra innings Monday. In St. Louis, Jhonny Peralta's third hit of the game landed beyond a shallow-playing Ryan Ludwick to drive in Matt Holliday for the victory. Adam LaRoche did one better, blasting a solo home run in the 11th inning to send the Nationals home with a 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks.
American League Quick Hits: After leaving his weekend start against the Tigers, Felix Hernandez' hip was declared "fine" by Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon on Monday. King Felix will make his next scheduled start on Friday ... Josh Hamilton missed his second straight game on Monday. The outfielder has struggled of late, hitting .221 with a .636 OPS over his past 35 games ... Not only is Erik Kratz a member of the Royals, but the 34-year-old catcher hit two home runs in the Royals' win over the Twins. Kratz was in the game because Salvador Perez left due to right knee discomfort, and he's considered day-to-day ... In a swap of young players who have struggled to begin their major league careers, the Red Sox recalled Mookie Betts and sent out Jackie Bradley Jr. Despite Betts' early struggles, he's worth a look in deeper leagues because of his natural ability and a lack of challengers to his playing time in Boston ... Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is "moving quickly toward a decision" on which team he will sign with, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. The Red Sox are among the teams courting Castillo, as are the Cubs, Yankees, Tigers and, likely, #mysteryteam.