McCutchen makes return to PNC Park as Pirates host Giants

The big story surrounding the San Francisco Giants‘ series opener Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates has nothing directly to do with statistics or strategy or streaks.

The game will mark outfielder Andrew McCutchen’s return to PNC Park.

McCutchen, 31, was a homegrown star for the Pirates, a first-round draft pick in 2005 who went on to become the face of the franchise and the 2013 National League MVP. He even named his first child, a son, born last fall, Steel after Pittsburgh’s industrial heritage.

Pittsburgh’s decision to trade him to the Giants on Jan. 15 for reliever Kyle Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds received a lot of backlash from fans, but it seemed to be aimed toward the team, which was seen as not willing to make enough of a financial investment, not toward McCutchen.

That should be an indication of the reception he will get.

“I think it’ll be really good,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think it’ll be heartfelt. I think it’ll be warm. I think it should be loud.”

McCutchen got off to one of his typical slow starts — he’s hitting .250 (40 points below his career average) with a .757 on-base-plus slugging percentage, three homers and 14 RBIs — but has heated up lately.

He has a nine-game hitting streak and has reached base by hit or by walk in 20 straight games. In his past six games, he is hitting .400 (8 for 20).

He was given the day off in Thursday’s afternoon series finale at Philadelphia.

“I don’t want to be going in there not feeling great,” McCutchen told mlb.com about his return to Pittsburgh. “To be going back and doing a fairly good job definitely is a plus.”

Any sour feelings McCutchen might have had over the trade faded quickly when the Giants made him feel valued.

“You feel really good to know that they’re in your corner,” he told mlb.com. “As soon as the jersey gets put on me, that’s what I am. It’s only been good things, positive vibes here and everyone’s been very welcoming.”

Pittsburgh (21-16), which also got backlash for dealing away starter Gerrit Cole, has not collapsed after shedding a couple top players from recent seasons. The Pirates have won three in a row and four of five. They had a day off Thursday.

San Francisco (19-19) isn’t doing quite as well as the Pirates — the Giants got swept in four games by the Phillies after winning seven of eight — but has a chance to come out of the weekend series with a better record than Pittsburgh, perhaps with McCutchen’s help.

San Francisco rookie left-hander Andrew Suarez (1-1, 3.06 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Jameson Taillon (2-3, 4.42 ERA) on Friday.

Suarez, 25, will be making his fourth major league start. He is coming off his first win Sunday, 4-3 at Atlanta, when he gave up one unearned run and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Suarez has 18 strikeouts and just two walks in 17 2/3 career innings.

Taillon is 0-3 in five starts since his gem April 8, when he threw a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts against Cincinnati. That includes giving up a season-high seven runs in 3 2/3 innings April 25 against Detroit. He got a no-decision his last outing, Saturday at Milwaukee, when he gave up one run over five innings.

Taillon has faced the Giants only twice, and they weren’t pretty starts. He is 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA, including last July 25, when he gave up a career-high 10 runs, nine earned, in three innings.