PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen returned to action Tuesday, hoping to help roust the Pirates from their nightmare.
Instead, he became part of it.
Even with McCutchen off the disabled list and back on the field, the Bucs took it on the chin from the Braves, the 11-3 defeat their worst since dropping a 12-2 game on May 31 in Los Angeles to the Dodgers.
McCutchen was hitless in four at-bats as veteran Aaron Harang stymied the Pirates, striking out once and bouncing into a double play.
In the big picture, however, what McCutchen did was not as important as how he felt.
"Yeah, I felt pretty good. Just trying to get back in the swing of things. Hopefully, that happens sooner rather than later," said McCutchen, who was back at his familiar spots -- three-hole, center field -- upon being reinstated after having been sidelined with an avulsion fracture of his 11th rib.
At that, McCutchen did have the Pirates' most puzzling at-bat of the night: In the sixth, he smoked a grounder at third baseman Chris Johnson, who threw to first for the out with McCutchen still in the batter's box.
"Just a weird swing ... and I fell, kinda tripped over my other foot. That was about it," McCutchen said. "I felt good. No [discomfort], nothing at all."
McCutchen did not play the entire game, leaving following his final at-bat in the eighth. There was no sense exposing him to unnecessary first-day stress given the lopsided score.
"He aggravated nothing," manager Clint Hurdle confirmed after the game. "Just getting him out of the game. Got his at-bats in, moving on."
McCutchen served the minimum time during the first DL stint of his career, gradually working himself back into game shape.
"I'm ready to go. I'm good to go," McCutchen had said prior to batting practice. "Can't wait."
To make room for McCutchen on the active roster, utility man Michael Martinez was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
"This is why I took 15 days, so I wouldn't have to [monitor myself when I returned], just go out there and play," McCutchen said. "I feel healed. I feel great. The legs feel great, the arm feels great, the ribs feel great, the body feels great."
McCutchen injured himself on Aug. 3, but did not go on the DL until eight days later. The Bucs went 5-9 during his absence, yet actually responded well until the losing streak that reached seven with Tuesday's defeat.
"It's been pretty frustrating to watch," McCutchen admitted. "Kinda like watching your best friend out there, on the track or something, and something happens and you want to go out there and help him, and you can't.
"You got all your guys out there, grinding every single day, and you want to be out there to help them, and you can't. But I'm just part of the puzzle. I'm not going to put pressure on myself. I'm not going to try to carry the team, just do my job, help the club win with whatever it takes."
At the time of his injury, the National League's reigning Most Valuable Player was among the league leaders in virtually every offensive category. Upon his return, McCutchen still led the league with an on-base percentage of .411 and was tied for fourth in batting at .311.
Despite the lack of results -- for both himself and for the team -- McCutchen considered the game a key development as the Bucs anticipate the stretch drive for a postseason spot.
"Yeah, definitely. That's something I'll try to do, just get back in the rhythm of things," McCutchen said. "That'll come. Getting the first out of the way was good."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less