The difference in Andrew McCutchen

When Andrew McCutchen got comfortable with his new stance, he noticed his increased power. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Andrew McCutchen did not wait before beginning his swing reconstruction last fall. He didn't head off to Aruba for a couple of weeks to decompress, didn't lie on a couch someplace, didn't spend October managing his fantasy football team.

The Pirates' 2011 season ended Sept. 28, and how long was it before McCutchen was back in a batting cage and adjusting to the significant changes he had made with his stance? "Three weeks," McCutchen recalled in a recent conversation. "I wanted to get comfortable."

While the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals journeyed their way to the World Series, McCutchen was back at work in a Florida cage with former teammate Steve Pearce, fixing his swing mechanics, working on getting the right measure of balance on his back leg. Too often, McCutchen had felt his timing had been inconsistent. "There were times when my [swing] path to the ball was either too early or too late," McCutchen said. "There were pitches that I should've been on" -- and mashing -- "but instead, I rolled over the ball."

Before McCutchen started in the cages, he had watched videotape of hitters he thought would help serve as models for a new setup. Manny Ramirez, who has always been viewed by his peers as one of the most balanced of hitters. Ryan Braun, who had an MVP season last year. Yadier Molina, who has gotten better and better at the plate throughout his career. "I wanted to see how they went through their swing -- the rhythm, the timing," McCutchen said.

McCutchen decided to open his stance: A right-handed hitter, he moved his front leg -- his left leg -- back from home plate.

Now, as a pitcher begins his delivery, McCutchen's swing mechanics are triggered. He raises the bat in his hands; he lifts his left leg slightly and then plants his front foot. His weight shift, from his back leg into his swing, is smooth and powerful, and he fires his bat through the zone.

But it didn't feel natural to him at the outset, when McCutchen first started his offseason work in the cage with Pearce at Florida Southern. "I told myself that the more that I did, the more I worked with it, the more comfortable I'd be," McCutchen said.

He kept swinging through November and December, and when he joined a minicamp the Pittsburgh Pirates held in January, he could feel the difference; he was able to really drive the ball to right-center "with some authority," he said.

The offseason work carried over into this season; he's hitting .332 with 12 homers, 39 RBIs, 14 steals, a .951 OPS.

If you filled out an NL MVP ballot today, it might look something like this:

1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

2. Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

3. David Wright, New York Mets

4. McCutchen, Pirates

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

6. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals

7. R.A. Dickey, Mets

8. Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants

9. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

10. Molina, Cardinals


Brandon Beachy is having Tommy John surgery, a body blow for the Atlanta Braves. Rival executives believe that Atlanta will be active in the market for starting pitching.

• After the battle of words between Joe Maddon and Davey Johnson, Stephen Strasburg shut down the Tampa Bay Rays.

When a players is traded and later faces his old teammates, his old team will change its signs, as a matter of course. It's considered fair game to ask an incoming player for information about his previous team's signs, or about how to pitch to batters on his old team, or about some other elements of that club. I've heard of teams specifically acquiring a player recently dumped by a rival largely for the information -- especially catchers, who are the information highways of the sport.

But where is the line about what information you can use?

It falls within that gray area covered in the volumes of baseball's unwritten rules, apparently.

Johnson did concede that Maddon is the more dominant force in the Twitter realm, as Marc Topkin writes.

Peralta could hear about the penalty he faces today.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Strasburg won:

A) Missed bats: Strasburg induced a career-best 21 swings and misses. All 10 of his strikeouts were swinging. It's Strasburg's sixth career game of 10 or more strikeouts, but the first in which all were swinging.

B) Rays hitters missed on 11 of their 14 swings (79 percent) against Strasburg's changeup, including all six swings before two strikes. His five changeup strikeouts tied a season high. Only two Strasburg changeups were put in play, both of which were on the ground.

C) Twenty-five of the 26 changeups (96 percent) Strasburg threw were down or below the strike zone, his highest percentage in his career (min. 10 changeups).

Highest miss percentage on changeups this season (qualified starters)

Strasburg -- 55 percent

Cole Hamels -- 48 percent

Johan Santana -- 45 percent

Felix Doubront -- 43 percent

• I don't think any team is having a tougher season than the Rockies, who came in with some high expectations. Colorado has pitched terribly, and on Wednesday, the Rockies suffered a gut-wrenching loss and learned that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is going to be out a long time.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Justin Verlander could get the ball for the All-Star Game if asked. He'd be an excellent choice.

2. Danny Hultzen was promoted to Triple-A.

3. Tyson Ross was promoted.

4. There are no moves on the horizon for the Miami Marlins, says Ozzie Guillen.

5. Roy Oswalt is set to start for the Rangers.

6. The Rangers should get Chone Figgins, writes Evan Grant.

7. Jacob Turner makes his 2012 major league debut today, and Mike Matheny is excited to see him pitch.

8. The Boston Red Sox have stepped up their efforts to trade Kevin Youkilis, writes Nick Cafardo.

9. The New York Yankees signed a left-hander from Cuba.

Dings and dents

1. Jerome Williams had a scary episode.

2. Mitch Moreland is headed to the disabled list.

3. Drew Hutchison won't need elbow surgery.

4. Salvy Perez appears to be very close to returning to the big leagues, as Bob Dutton writes.

5. The Reds are downplaying Aroldis Chapman's ailment.

6. A Chicago Cubs reliever got very lucky.

7. Shaun Marcum's elbow is OK, in the big picture, but he still might wind up on the disabled list.

8. Joe Mauer may not start until Friday.

9. Chase Utley had another good day.

10. Dustin Pedroia got a scare.

11. Nick Markakis needs more time.

By The Numbers