PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Right-hander James McDonald continues to impress on the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012. On April 25, McDonald took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Colorado. He followed that performance up with punching out a career-high 10 Braves in Atlanta his last trip to the mound. And on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, McDonald tossed 6.1 innings holding the Cincinnati Reds to just one run at PNC Park in the Bucs 3-2 win.
“I’m just trying to keep the same mentality and focus. Go after guys with my best stuff,” McDonald said.
“Another strong outing from James,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “First pitch strikes. I think he had nine hitters retired on nine pitches or less. Only three, three-ball counts. The pitch efficiency continues to get to a good place. The slider for five innings played really well. The fastball command good throughout the night, and velocity with finish…He continues to progress. He’s progressing but not to the spot where he needs to walk out of there with a bad mark by any means. He gave what we needed again tonight.”
McDonald scattered six hits while walking a pair and striking out seven batters over 6.1 innings. The 27-year-old threw 99 pitches, 67 strikes over his sixth start of the 2011 season lowering his ERA to just 2.70. McDonald has struck out a combined 25 batters over his last three starts (21.0 IP).
“Rod [Barajas] was back there calling a good game,” McDonald said. “He’s seeing what those guys want to do up there. He’s putting down the right fingers for me. I’m just making the pitch…If I need a strikeout, I feel like I can go for one. But I really prefer to put the ball in play within the first three pitches.
After a lengthy 23 pitch first inning, McDonald cruised against the Reds. Over McDonald’s next two innings, he whiffed a pair in each of the second and third innings.
Joey Votto led off the fourth frame with a ground rule double hit down the left field line. After advancing to third base on a ground out, Votto was called out at home on a double play. Jay Bruce hit a grounder to first. Casey McGehee touched the bag, then made a perfect throw home to nail Votto at the plate to end the inning and keep the two run lead intact.
“That pick and tag, good stuff,” Hurdle said. “That’s do or don’t. And to keep that run from scoring right there. You know how big it played out. I mean, my goodness. There was a lot going on for just a 3-2 ballgame.”
The Reds scored their first run in the seventh inning. Jay Bruce lined a triple into center field. The ball bounced under the glove of Andrew McCutchen and rolled to the wall. Scott Rolen brought him in by hitting a RBI single into left field. Manager Clint Hurdle called upon righty Juan Cruz from the bullpen, who got a double play to end the inning.
The defense showed up big with McDonald on the mound. Shortstop Clint Barmes and Andrew McCutchen each had a pair of great plays at their respective positions. With two outs in the sixth, Jose Tabata received a standing ovation after making a spectacular over the shoulder catch to rob Votto with a runner on base. The catch up against the wall in left field ended the frame for McDonald, who walked off the mound stunned at the play.
“Happy. I was just a little happy,” McDonald said joking. “It was a great play. They made a handful of great plays behind me tonight. The defense played really well.”
“One of the better games that we played, that we needed to play to win the game on the defensive side of the ball,” Hurdle said. “Our shortstop made a couple nice plays. Our left fielder made a fantastic running catch deep in the gap. Overall, our defense was pretty solid tonight. It was above and beyond what you normally get. Big time plays. And we needed every one of them.”
Second baseman Neil Walker has played well in his career against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. He entered game action with a .358 career average in Pittsburgh against Cincinnati. After Jose Tabata connected for a double into right field, Walker followed by crushing an 0-1 cutter from righty Mike Leake for a two-run blast that landed halfway up the seats in right.
“Home runs come and go. For me as a switch hitter, that’s not my approach,” Walker said. “I’m not worried about hitting home runs. But when I do, I’m excited about it. It was obviously nice to hit a home run tonight and help the team win. Certainty not trying to go up there and hit the ball out of the ballpark. Just trying to make solid contact.”
The long ball was the first for Walker this season and his first since September 4, 2011 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“Neil is more aware of it than anyone else,” Hurdle said. “Neil is a very good hitter. He was basically just finding a way to get a hit. That’s not good enough. We talked about getting trying to find a better power position, impact on the ball when he’s striking it. He’s had balls to drive to square up. Sometimes you go through stretches where you don’t get balls to elevate and lift. He got a ball today that was elevated in a good spot and he put a good swing on it.”
“When you can master that swing, and that balls elevated, you ride it out. Sometimes they come in bunches, too. So, we’ll ride it out and keep our fingers crossed that popping that first one will get him on a bit of a roll.”
After coming in for a double switch in the seventh inning, Alex Presley took an 0-1 pitch in his first at-bat in the bottom of the frame for a solo-shot to right-center field, putting the Pirates up 3-1, and providing an important insurance run. The Reds have given up 26 long balls so far this season, which is tied for fourth-most in the National League.
The Reds rallied back for a run off reliever Jason Grilli in the eighth inning. Catcher Devin Mesoraco led off with a single into right field and scored on a RBI double ripped down the left field line by Zach Cozart. Joel Hanrahan came on to close things out in the ninth with a one, two, three inning.
“It was a good team win tonight,” Walker said. “Good pitching, good defense and some timely hitting.”
- Relief — Juan Cruz: 0.2 IP; Jason Grilli: 1.0 IP, 2H, R, BB, 2K; Joel Hanrahan: 1.0 IP
- With two outs in the fourth inning, Jose Tabata hit a double to right field –his fifth two bagger of the season and his third in his last five games.
- Righty Juan Cruz has not been scored upon in his first 12 appearances this season (11.0 innings).
- Right-hander Evan Meek made his first appearance for Triple-A Indianapolis tonight since being demoted from the big league club. Meek tossed two scoreless frames allowing one hit and struck out one.