His manager was equally impressed by McCutchen's performance in relief leading up to the starting opportunity.
"I think he showed a lot more confidence out of the bullpen," Russell said. "I thought he threw the ball pretty well. I think it kind of helped set up his start."
McCutchen's start was his first since July 31, also against the Cardinals. In that start, which was in St. Louis, McCutchen went 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits. McCutchen struck out just one batter while walking six as he took the loss.
In eight starts this season, McCutchen owns a 6.92 ERA -- giving up 30 earned runs over 39 innings of work on his way to a 2-5 record with 20 walks and 20 strikeouts. As a reliever, McCutchen has an impressive 1.74 ERA -- allowing just two runs on 11 hits over 10 1/3 innings of work in nine appearances.
"He was more aggressive. He was hitting his spots. I don't think he was worried how deep he was going to go in the game," Russell said. "I think he was just out there one hitter at a time, one inning at a time. I think that's a good lesson that he learned from the bullpen -- and if he does start again, it's something he can draw onto.
"It is one pitch at a time. Execute this pitch, go to the next pitch."