Pirates Notebook: McDonald Is Hard to Hit; Jones Seeking Consistency

James McDonald – Photo by Mark Olson

CLEVELAND, OH. — When James McDonald takes the mound, he’s hard to hit. When he’s got fastball command, and his secondary pitches are working, the opposing team doesn’t have much luck trying to square up a base knock. He’s already flirted with two no-hitters in 2012. And on Friday night against the Indians, McDonald scattered just three hits and picked up the tough-luck loss.

“The one thing that has been jumping out for me — James is hard to hit,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s hard to hit James. That downhill angel, that fastball. If he can keep changing speeds like he does, he keeps them off that fastballs so when he’s in the zone, it gets on them.”

McDonald lasted a season-worst four innings his last trip to the mound at PNC Park against Kansas City. But on Friday night in Cleveland, McDonald bounced back and tossed six innings allowing just one run on three hits. He walked two and struck out five while throwing 101 pitches, 54 for strikes.

After picking up his third whiff of the Indians to start the third inning, McDonald walked Asdrubal Cabrera. With two outs, catcher Carlos Santana hit a grounder just right of the third base bag for a RBI double. The ball trickled into no man’s land in left field allowing Cabrera to score from first base.

“He’s a good hitter,” McDonald said. “I played with him in the Dodger organization. He’s always a good hitter. That’s just a good at-bat.”

McDonald cruised after that third frame due to better rhythm and timing.

“The first two innings I threw a lot of pitches,” McDonald said. “A lot of pitches weren’t competitive pitches. They were up, sporadic. Once I got a little feel, something started to click and I started throwing better quality pitches, more competitive pitches down in the zone. I felt better the last two and a half innings or so. I’m going to build on that. I finished the game pretty good.”

That was the lone run that McDonald allowed over six innings. He retired his final 10 batters to end his 13th outing of the season. McDonald’s ERA sits at an impressive 2.32 on the year.

“His rhythm, his timing, everything started picking up in the third…His best innings for me were his last two,” Hurdle said. “He pitched a very good, efficient ballgame for us tonight.”

Despite a solid outing by McDonald, the right-hander got the unlucky loss due to the Pirates lack of run support. All three of McDonald’s losses this season have come on the other end of a shutout.

“It happens,” McDonald said. “Sometimes you give up six and you win. Those guys are out there battling. They did everything I asked for. They played hard behind me. Whatever happens, happens.”

With the Indians Justin Masterson on the bump, the team struck out nine times — six of them looking. Masterson struck out more than nine batters just once during the 2012 season when he whiffed 10 on April 5 against Toronto. The Pirates had several missed opportunities in the 2-0 loss on Friday to score runs, but were unable to come through.

In the 4th inning, the Bucs drew two walks and a single to load the bases with two-outs for Jose Tabata, but the outfielder struck out swinging to leave them loaded. And in the 6th, Neil Walker hit a leadoff ground rule double to right center field to start the frame. After advancing to third on the ground out by Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones popped out to second and Casey McGehee grounded out to end the inning. Also in the 7th inning, Tabata drew a walk and Josh Harrison was nailed with a pitch on his left shoulder. A wild pitch by the Indians starter pushed runners to first and third, but Alex Presley flew out to left to strand his teammates.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen him,” Hurdle said of Masterson. “You can watch as much tape as you want it’s a little different when you get in the box so I think some of the guys intentionally the first time through were trying to get a feel.”

 

Jones Seeking Consistency 

Garrett Jones has had a hot swing at the plate so far in the month of June. The first baseman his hitting for a .344 clip after hitting just .206 in May. The biggest issue for Jones is his consistency while in the batters box. He’s never been consistent over the course of a season.

“That’s the beauty of what we do, you already know he’s not going to hit .350 forever. Those are statements that are made everyday,” Hurdle said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do. I know why he’s doing what he’s doing, and he does. It’s up to him now to stay there, stay tall at the plate, get his hands out in front, use the barrel of the bat.”

“Most hitters comparable to Garrett that I’ve worked with they get to this spot right now and you know what they want to do? They want to ratchet up a couple more notches. Now you know what, if I had a few more homers to go along with this, I drive in some [more] runs, now I’m going to be somebody. Before you know it, you’re heading back in the old direction. I’ve been talking to Pedro [Alvarez] about it. You don’t go up when you do well here. There’s no higher league. You stay here until you struggle and you figure out how to do well again. Embrace where you are while you’re there and just stay with that and see how long you can be consistent.”

Jones has made several adjustments recently noting that staying relaxed and having a better routine has been key.

“I’m really pleased with the way he’s gone about him being the best ball player that he can be,” Hurdle said. “The extra work in the outfield. The extra work in the infield. Him embracing this identity at the plate that I don’t have to be Babe Ruth, I just need to be me. A guy that had some success when he first got here a couple years ago, then almost tried to take it to another level and lost his way for a little bit.”

 

Young Arms Could Help Out Soon in Pittsburgh

The Pirates rotation took a hit yesterday after the team announced that right-hander Charlie Morton underwent season-ending Tommy John Surgery on his pitching elbow. Typical recovery for that procedure is 8-12 months. With Brad Lincoln making spot starts for the Pirates and Jeff Karstens (hip flexor) on the brink of coming back, the club knows they have depth in Triple-A.

“We just took a hit with Charlie, but I still feel very optimistic that we’ve got the depth in the rotation,” Hurdle said. “Karstens will throw, barring any set backs, in the bullpen this weekend. Then he’ll throw a [rehab] game on Tuesday. We’ll see where it goes from there. One more start and he can be in a two-week window. We’ve got three young men in the minor leagues that are pitching very well that are on the brink of busting out and helping us up here in [Jeff] Locke, [Justin] Wilson and Rudy Owens.”

 

Hurdle Not Surprised by Cole’s Promotion

On Friday afternoon, the Pirates promoted right-hander Gerrit Cole from High-A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona. The club’s first round pick in the 2011 draft (first overall) posted a 2.55 ERA over 13 starts. Cole struck out 69 batters over 67.0 innings while walking just 21.

Hurdle got to see the talented arm during his first big league camp this spring.

“I’m not surprised,” Hurdle said of Cole’s promotion. “I don’t set expectations on our players. A lot of people do. I hear all the time what guys can or can’t do and I’m the one working with them everyday and watching them. It’s interesting to me. That is a young man that is highly motivated, that’s highly skilled for what he’s done. He was probably in a league, where you know what? How many [counter] punches were thrown back? I’m sure there were some, but when you get to a place where you’re continually better and performing better, you want to make sure you can rise that level of opposition where there’s more challenges for him as well. I think that’s what we’ve done.”

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