PITTSBURGH, PA — Last season James McDonald had trouble pitching lengthy outings. But this year there is a whole different guy on the mound. McDonald continues to knock down different challenges this season. On Thursday night at PNC Park McDonald threw his first Major League complete game in the Pirates 9-1 series win over the Minnesota Twins.
“It would have been funner to get it earlier, but it was all worth it,” McDonald said with a smile.
“He’s thrown a number of good games,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “As far as completing a game, I mean that’s his first one. Our first one this season. It’s another step forward for him. It’s on the resume. He went nine. Last year with all the discussion about lack of length, not being able to pitch efficiently. He’s knocking things down this year one at a time. This one is another one to get knocked down.”
“He was smelling it from the seventh on. He got himself into a position where he could do it, and he did it…He was strong. He was working even quicker in between pitches in the seventh and the eighth than he was previously in the game. We had a feel for it….He was just attacking people and working in a good rhythm…It was a very good job by Rod [Barajas]. He followed a very good game plan. They were definitely in sync tonight. ”
Prior to tonight McDonald had pitched eight frames three times in his professional career, twice coming this season. As he walked off the mound, after tossing a perfect eighth inning, McDonald was greeted to a standing ovation from the home crowd. The right-hander was at 102 pitches, but Hurdle didn’t even think twice about not letting him try to complete it.
“No,” Hurdle said firmly after the game. “If he doesn’t get [Ryan] Doumit out, that’s his last hitter. That’s the end of the night for him.”
“I mean, he’s the coach,” McDonald said. “He can do what he wants. I don’t know how happy I would have been.”
McDonald scattered just six hits over his nine innings, didn’t walk a batter and struck out five. The righty dropped his season ERA down to just a 2.19 and picked up his sixth win.
McDonald said he contributes his impressive season to guidance. Two huge influences this season, McDonald said, have been from catcher Rod Barajas and pitcher A.J. Burnett. Both veterans had never been on the same team as McDonald until this year, but the righty has learned a lot from them from day one in spring training in Bradenton, Fla.
“When I came into spring training, a lot of people said that the maturity level wasn’t there,” Barajas said. “When he gets into jams, he has a real hard time trying to get out of them. From day one, just talking to him. You could see a little bit of that in spring training, but he’s just developed. He’s turned into a pitcher who is calm under pressure and that’s what you want. You want to see that. All the guys on the field, they want to see that. They want to see their pitcher under control when the going gets tough. That’s what J-Mac’s been the whole year.”
“I had a talk with Rod after my last outing,” McDonald said. “He kind of sat down and talked to me and told me I need to be that guy that wants seven to nine innings every time out. As soon as I got to the seventh, that just went to my brain the whole time. I kind of really wanted that. And I could see that he wanted me to finish the game. All my teammates wanted me to finish the game. I finally believe in myself that I could finish the game. When I got out there, it felt like it was the first inning all over again.”
“Those guys influence me in a lot of ways. Whether it’s mentality…Before I didn’t even think about that. Now, I expect seven innings every time. Just that mentality there. A.J. the same thing. They tell me I need to be the guy that wants the ball seven innings every time. Just seeing them guys have confidence in me, it kind of puts confidence in myself to believe in myself and that I can do those things.”
McDonald didn’t face much traffic on the bases. A leadoff double in the second was erased after McDonald retired his next three straight. In the fourth inning, McDonald hit the leadoff batter with a pitch, but then got a double play to erase the runner. The lone run he allowed followed after Trevor Plouffe launched a two-out double over the head of McCutchen in center field. Former Bucco Ryan Doumit drove him in with a base hit just under the glove of a diving Neil Walker at second base.
The 27-year-old has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 14 starts this season and has allowed just one earned run or less in eight of those outings.
McDonald knocked down the complete game. What’s next? All-Star game? His numbers are definitely deserving of it.
“If you pitch well, you got a chance,” McDonald said.
McCutchen Just Homer Shy of Cycle While Offense Continues Tear
While McDonald continued to put up numbers worthy of an All-Star nod, there was another Bucco proving that he belongs there as well. Andrew McCutchen drove in three of the club’s nine runs on the night en route to a three hit night, where he needed just a home run to complete the cycle.
McCutchen showed off his wheels with a two-out triple to the gap in right-center field in the first inning. It marked his fourth triple of the season. Garrett Jones followed by hitting an infield single to plate McCutchen for the first run of the game.
In the next inning, McCutchen picked up his second hit off Hendricks by taking a 1-1 fastball of the wall in left field for a bases clearing double. McCutchen singled in the seventh inning — just a homer shy of becoming the first Pirates player to hit for the cycle since 2004. Neil Walker got the final out in the ninth inning before he had a chance for the at-bat.
But it wasn’t just McCutchen that shined on offense.
Barajas went deep on a 1-1 pitch in the sixth for a two-run shot with Pedro Alvarez on first base. Barajas was just 1-for-23 over his last eight games before connecting for his seventh long ball of the season.
“It was great,” Barajas said of the home run. “I wanted to get the ball away from [Denard] Span. That guy covers so much ground out there. It was nice to give us a little more cushion. It was a three-run game at the time. Anytime you can add on and make things that much harder for the opposing team, it’s great. I was just happy to do something offensively to help the team out and kind of let J-Mac go out there and finish what he was doing.”
Birthday boy Garrett Jones took 2-1 pitch for a two-run homer for his eighth of the season in the seventh. Alvarez was the next to break out the lumber and hit a bullet — a solo-shot that bounced out of the stadium launching 435 feet to right field. His 13 long balls leads the team and is tied for the most among National League third baseman.
“They’re doing things that they believe they are capable of doing,” Hurdle said. “They’re doing things that I remained optimistic about us doing as a complete offense. We’ll see as we move forward.”
June has been a nice month for the offense. Their 92 runs scored is third most in the National League and their team average of .259 is ranked No. 6 in the NL.
The bats started off slow and the Pirates saw several key players hitting well below what they were capable of contributing. But one man that believed the offensive woes would turn was Hurdle, and he believes the way the bats are swinging is what he envisioned this season.
“I’ve stayed firm in my beliefs and my optimism,” Hurdle said. “We’ve had to deal with some challenges along the way. We’ve had to reset some mindsets and continue work on the things that you need to work on to become a better offensive club. But it doesn’t surprise me by any means. Where we’re ranked, we’ll find out at the end of the season. You’re taking a snapshot, we’ve had a very good June. Cosmetically it’s picking the numbers up and I do think the numbers will continue to pick up.”
“Guys are finding their rhythm, they’re finding their comfort zone to a more complimentary facet within all the offensive players. For the longest period we had one guy either meeting or exceeding our expectations out of all our position players. If you look at the month of June, we’ve got a much larger group of men in play that are producing. We’re able to score runs from the top of the lineup to the bottom of the lineup. Everybody coming off the bench is helping as well.”
Cole, Taillon to Represent Pirates in Futures Game
The Pirates announced today that right-handed prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, along with Triple-A Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer, will represent the Pirates organization at the All-Star Futures Game. All three members will represent Team USA. The game is held on Sunday, July 8 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
“We’re excited about it,” Hurdle said. “It’s a great opportunity for young men throughout every organization to participate in that type of venue, that type of stage that they will be on. Obviously it’s the best of the best. They’ve been hand-picked and it’s a great opportunity for them to go also. Just get in a different environment other than the clubhouse that they’ve been in…Every player that I’ve ever talked to, this opportunity had a dramatic impact upon them. It was a lot of fun just to be a part of it. Obviously the experience that they are going to gain from it should do nothing but help them move forward.”
Cole is coming off his Double-A debut last night where he picked up the win for the Curve. Cole went 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA along with 69 strikeouts over 67.0 innings at High-A Bradenton before being promoted. Taillon, both of whom are first round picks by Pittsburgh, has a 4.10 ERA over 14 starts with Bradenton. In his last start, Taillon allowed just one hit over seven scoreless frames.
“Performed very well last night,” Hurdle said of Cole’s debut. “Good for him. You always like to see them do better than not. He was able to establish velocity, pitch through the middle of the game. The first start usually at that level is the one with the most anxiety involved. He’s going to have a better comfort zone from here on out. He went out there and performed very well and competed very well.”