PITTSBURGH -- Three hundred sixty-five days ago, the Pirates started a kinetic 22-year-old in center field, the first in a slew of high first-round Draft picks to reach the big leagues with the hope of leading the franchise in a new direction. Batting leadoff that night, the rookie scored three times, notched two singles, drove in a run and stole a base in a winning effort.
On Friday night, batting leadoff again after stints in the order at second and third, Andrew McCutchen took the field against the Giants leading his team this season in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He has connected for the Pirates' most hits, stolen the most bases and scored the most runs.
"I guess I've been doing a pretty good job," McCutchen humbly stated. "I'm improving, and that's what I've been looking for. That's my goal: to improve every year. And I've been able to do that."
In virtually all categories, McCutchen is on pace to finish with better numbers than last season, when he played 108 games. But the 23-year-old has improved his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage from a year ago -- marks he attributes to starting the season at the Major League level.
He entered Friday having played in 160 games, more than any Major League outfielder since his debut, and he has recorded 185 hits, the second most in franchise history through 160 games. (In 1933, Arky Vaughan had 191 hits through his first 160 games.)
"It definitely is different," McCutchen said of this season. "You feel a certain level of comfortness, just to be able to come in and to be able to come up and get your at-bats.
"At the beginning, you're kind of just asking yourself, 'What can I do? Can I be able to just go out there and be able to perform every day?'"
Now, 161 games into a promising career, McCutchen's energy chasing down fly balls and rounding the bases have endeared him to the hopeful fanbase that sees the fun he brings to the game as a sign of things to come.
"I've always been that guy; I've always liked to keep the team kind of hyped up and just keeping them on their toes," McCutchen said. "So I've had fun with that, because this game's already as difficult as it is, and so it's good just to be that person to come through and be able to just go out and kind of lighten everybody up.
"It lets you know that this game still is fun. It's what we do for a living, but at the same time, it's what we love doing, so I've just got to remind people that hey, this is a fun game, too."
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.