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Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen says left knee 'not a factor at all' in slow start

PHILADELPHIA -- His batting average still sits at .219, with just two home runs and one stolen base. But Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he doesn't have a knee injury, that his left knee -- which limited him in spring training -- is "not a factor at all" in how he's playing, and that the people who believe his knee is the reason for his slow start are "overanalyzing" him.

"They're overanalyzing, is what it is," McCutchen said, "because honestly, I take that as: It makes me feel good, because they're searching for something, going, 'Well, there has to be a reason why he's doing what he's doing. He must be injured.' It makes me feel good, because [they're saying], 'If he didn't have an injury he'd be killing it.'

"So for me, I get it. I feel good about that. But at the same time, it's not that. It's not my knee. It's not any of that."

Scouts and opponents have been saying for weeks, as they watched McCutchen struggle, that his knee was bothering more than he's been letting on. But McCutchen said, with no equivocation, that's just not accurate.

"Physically, I feel great," he said. "I mean, I was running and jumping off the wall two days ago. If I need to go steal a base, I can steal a base. If I need to go make a diving play, I'll make a diving play. My knee's not a factor at all. And I think the more I go out there and keep playing, the more I keep hitting, the more I keep doing what I do, I guess they'll say, 'Oh, I guess he's feeling better.'"

A week ago, McCutchen was hitting only .185, with five extra-base hits and no stolen bases, in 107 plate appearances. But over the past five games, he has gone 7-for-18 (.389), with four doubles, a stolen base and five runs scored.

"The thing is, I'm feeling better, but it's not my knee," he said. "I'm just overall feeling better. I just feel better at the plate. I feel better when I'm in the box hitting, just because of all my work, because of getting back to basics."

McCutchen admitted his knee was sore in spring training, limiting him to just 32 at-bats and 11 games played before Opening Day. At one point in mid-March, he missed 11 consecutive games and played only sporadically, even after returning to the lineup.

"Spring training, I wasn't feeling too good," he said. "I wasn't playing as much. And it was just like playing catch-up when the season started instead of just going out and playing the game. That's what I've been doing, but I just wasn't necessarily feeling the same.

"I didn't leave spring training feeling like I always felt ... but now I feel great," McCutchen went on. "And I really think everything that's happened is going to compel me to have an even better season and an even better career."

McCutchen, who won the National League MVP award two years ago and finished third last season, said he believes slumping early has helped him "because I've never struggled like I have this year."

"I've done everything wrong," he said. "So now I know how it feels to be right. So that's kind of what I mean by [saying] when it starts, it's going to stay there."

He also said he has been able to draw on his faith as a source of strength that he believes will make him a better player as he comes out of this prolonged slump.

"Regardless of what you go through, you're going to get good out of it," he said. "That's kind of how I take it. The things that you struggle through, they are going to make you stronger. They're gong to make you a better person. They're going to make you wiser. So you learn from those things as you go through them.

"That's basically like what I'm going through. God can never put more on me than I can bear. I know I can bear it. I know I can get through it better. And once it takes off, I can look back and be like, you know what? As much as I didn't like April, as much as I didn't like the beginning of May, it's OK, because now look where I'm at."