Round Rock Express right-hander Daniel McCutchen’s top priority is to return to the majors, but other variables now play into his baseball career decisions.
The primary reason the former Norman High School and University of Oklahoma right-hander signed with the Texas Rangers is his family is now part of the equation.
“I have a young daughter,” McCutchen said. “You want to be as home as much as possible in a profession (where) you’re on the road a lot during the season.”
McCutchen’s wife is a dentist, part-owner of a practice in New Braunfels, which is an hour drive from Round Rock, the Austin suburb that’s home to the Rangers’ Triple-A team.
The added bonus is McCutchen, 31, grew up a Rangers fan. One brief appearance with the Rangers last month meant more than 191 innings he pitched with the Pittsburgh Pirates the past four years.
“It was awesome putting on that uniform, getting to play for the Texas Rangers,” McCutchen said. “When I was up with Pittsburgh, I was 1,500 miles away. My father is a preacher in Norman.
“It was such a thrill to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster and then to get to pitch in a game. They know who I am. Hopefully at some point this year I get to go back up.”
Like many players who have spent the bulk of their careers in the minors, McCutchen has discovered the cruel business side of the game.
A former 13th-round pick by the Yankees eight years ago, McCutchen was 8-11 with a 4.77 ERA in 108 games with the Pirates, but this also is his seventh year in Triple-A.
“Timing is huge,” McCutchen said. “Are you hitting or pitching well when a guy goes down in the majors? A lot of times they want the hottest guy from Triple-A.”
Last season while he was in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league system, McCutchen was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
McCutchen claims he is innocent but was hesitant to reveal his side of the story.
He said he received a B12 shot in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, a shot that included additional substances.
According to a Major League Baseball press release, McCutchen tested positive for Methenolone and a metabolite of Trenbolone, anabolic steroids that assist muscle growth.
“The shot basically was tampered. It’s an oil base that stays in your system for seven months,” McCutchen said. “Major League Baseball knew that. I knew that. I get drug tested five times a year. What idiot would take something that stays in your system?
“With all the Biogenesis stuff going you get labeled. I just tell people to look at the facts. That’s my defense.”
The suspension made getting back to the majors even more gratifying. He’s also grateful for the opportunity to be closer to friends and relatives.
During the opening game of a four-game series last week at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, McCutchen left 67 complimentary passes.
Because his previous Triple-A experience was in the International League, he had never pitched in a pro game in his home state.
While he was at OU, McCutchen and some pitching buddies engraved their names onto a painted pole in the visiting team bullpen at The Brick.
“I was a little surprised but our names were still there,” McCutchen said. “That was the last time I had pitched in Oklahoma before I pitched the other night.
“I’ve spent so much of my career back East it was a blast to finally get to play in front of my parents and some friends from my father’s church who are big fans. It was a lot of fun to play in your hometown.”
Because he is a former starter now pitching in relief, McCutchen feels his versatility should benefit his chances of returning to the majors. He can pitch to one batter or give a manager three or four innings if the starter exits early.
“You’re competing against kids out of high school and college,” McCutchen said. “Once you get to 1,000 innings that 95 mph fastball turns into 90 or 91. You can’t just blow guys away with your fastball. You have to learn how to really pitch.
“I’m only 31. I feel really good. We had a 300-yard shuttle in (spring training) camp and I beat all the pitchers, including the kids. I’m one of those guys, my arm bounces back well. I feel I can compete at the major league level. If I pitch well here hopefully I get the call.”
McCutchen said he feels blessed to be one of the kids who lived out their dream.
“Back in Little League everyone thought they’d play in the majors, but the older you get you see just how few people get that opportunity,” McCutchen said. “Looking back, you have to stay healthy and have a lot of breaks go your way.”
McCutchen will use his economics degree from OU after baseball ends, but that’s still a few years off.
“I’ve always done business stuff on the side and have some ideas. I’m not one of those guys who will be giving hitting lessons after baseball,” McCutchen said. “Right now, my focus is to play as long as I can. I’m hoping to play for at least six or seven more years.”