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Could more changes be in order for Pirates' McCutchen vs. Mets?

PITTSBURGH -- Where will Andrew McCutchen be Saturday when the Pittsburgh Pirates play the second game of a weekend series against the New York Mets at PNC Park?

The Pirates are trying everything they can think of to get the center fielder and former National League MVP untracked. McCutchen was benched for a couple of games in Atlanta at the end of a road trip this week, then Friday night was moved to sixth in the lineup -- the first time as a starter he has been slotted lower than fourth. His usual spot is third.

McCutchen went 1-for-4 with a solid one-out single up the middle in the seventh inning of the Pirates' 8-1 loss to New York.

On one hand, it was one of just six Pirates hits. On the other, it only boosted McCutchen's average from .203 to .205, and there is no telling if it might have been the start of something positive.

For his part, McCutchen isn't balking at the move. Far from it.

"I was cool with it," he said. "Different experience for me, but I understand where this could help me get things going. I discussed it with (manager Clint) Hurdle and I wasn't opposed it at all. I was, like, 'Let's go, man. I'm ready. Whatever we've got to do, let's do it.'"

In fact, McCutchen wonders if the move down the lineup might relieve some pressure after he stranded several runners before he was given the two days off from starting.

"Three-hole sometimes can be one of those spots where you feel like you've got to produce and deliver, come through, especially early in the game or middle of the game," McCutchen said. "I've had plenty of opportunities the last few series, runners in scoring position, and it might have put a little added pressure on me.

"I feel like I've got to do a little more. I think being a little further down the lineup is going to help me be able to not put pressure on myself."

The Pirates' scheduled starter Saturday, Gerrit Cole (2-5, 3.36 ERA), has been the victim of poor run support much of the season. But in his 11th and most recent start Monday, it was on him.

Cole allowed five runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss at Atlanta. Perhaps coming back to PNC Park will help. The right-hander is 1-1 at home with a 1.67 ERA in four starts.

For New York, right-hander Zack Wheeler (3-2, 3.74 ERA) is more of a road specialist. He is 13-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 32 career starts on the road, where he has won six of his past seven starts. This season, he is 1-0 with a 2.76 ERA in three road starts.

Wheeler has been arguably the Mets' most consistent starter, but that comes with a future asterisk. After missing two seasons following Tommy John surgery, Wheeler has a 125-inning limit this season. He is already at 43 1/3, or more than a third of the way to his limit, on Memorial Day weekend.

How well he holds up and how well he does, including Saturday's game, could induce the Mets to lift or extend his limit.

"What we try to do is establish a target, and then we constantly re-evaluate," general manager Sandy Alderson told Newsday last weekend. "And that's what we'll do in his case."

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