Dan McCutchen throws hard. Maybe too hard. That could be why he can’t seem to last long enough in games to be a viable starter.

McCutchen reminds me a little of a Baltimore Orioles kid from a few years back named Adam Loewen. That 6’5” lefty was a hard thrower who struck out nearly one batter an inning, and was basically unhittable for up to four innings. But by no later than the fifth, he would weaken, because he was tired. Beyond that, fughedaboutit.

No sixth or seventh inning for him. Whether or not he would be credited with a win (on his better outings) depended entirely on whether he could make it through that fifth inning without too much damage.

Loewen was eventually forced off the mound because of injuries (and is trying to become a position player). He really should not have been a starter, despite his raw talent, because his natural calling was as a long reliever.

McCutchen has exhibited the same pattern. In relief against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, he pitched 4.1 shutout innings, which was basically Loewen’s ceiling (without allowing a run). It’s also the best McCutchen has done in the majors, where he has not been able to replicate his minor league record of striking out seven batters every nine innings.

Other than that, McCutchen may pitch one scoreless inning or so, but can’t seem to pitch two or more frames without giving up at least one run. That spells “reliever” to me.

The upside is that having been trained as a starter, he has more endurance than the average reliever, which is to say that he is a natural long reliever, or “innings eater.” If he can pitch three innings while yielding only one run, that is as much as can be ordinarily expected.

The problem was apparent even in the minors, McCutchen (and Loewen) threw hard, because of a lack of finesse. That’s good enough for a short stretch, but genuinely good pitchers don’t go for whole games just throwing fastballs.

They confuse batters by mixing up their pitches, meaning that they can kick back and relax some of the time, pacing themselves for most of nine innings. Pitchers like McCutchen and Loewen can’t seem to do that. They live or die mainly by velocity.

Once that velocity is gone (by midgame), they don’t have much to fall back on. Hence they should be pitching for short stretches (typically 1-3 innings), not the better part of whole games. And, of course, not every day.

The Orioles burned up a talented kid (who went 8-8 for them with limited run support over three years) because they were stuck for starting pitching. The Pirates, to their credit, now have a large number of pitchers on the bench and in the minors.

They see their priority, rightly, as making intelligent use of the hurlers (and other talent) that they have. They seem to understand that an overly hard thrower like McCutchen belongs in the bullpen, not in the rotation. And maybe that’s why Pittsburgh isn’t the worst team in the majors—Baltimore is.

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