James McDonald struggled in his first two starts after the All-Star break. He allowed 10 earned runs over 9.2 innings with nine walks to just four strikeouts. McDonald’s last trip to the bump at PNC Park on Tuesday against Chicago was a step forward. Although he allowed five earned runs over six frames, he saw his curve back and racked up six strikeouts. The damage came in two frames, just a few bad pitches, while his other four innings were solid.
“The ball came out a lot better than my previous two,” McDonald said after that outing. “I had pretty decent command. They just hit the ball when they needed to. I went out there and gave everything I had. I had good stuff.”
Manager Clint Hurdle, too, believed that McDonald took a step forward, saying, “That’s the James that we saw the first half of the season albeit a couple misses.”
But from the get-go on Sunday, the second-half McDonald was back, and not the right-hander who sported an impressive 2.37 ERA prior to the All-Star break. There were sequences that went well for McDonald, but he struggled with consistently repeating his delivery and fastball command.
McDonald had allowed seven first-inning runs in his last three starts, but against Houston managed to escape a two-out four pitch walk to J.D. Martinez in the first. But from there, McDonald’s lack of control hurt him.
For the second straight inning, McDonald issued a two-out free pass. The right-hander struggled with his control again in his next at bat, and walked his third batter of the game. McDonald ended the inning by striking out Lucas Harrell swinging. The right-hander, however, ended the second frame at 44 pitches, 23 of those were balls.
In the third, McDonald once again gave up a walk. This time, a leadoff one on five pitches to start the inning. Gonzalez hit an infield single off the glove of Jordy Mercer at short that rolled into left field, putting runners on second and third with no outs. J.D. Martinez followed with a sac fly to right field to plate the first run. McDonald continued to struggle with his control and issued his season-high fifth walk during the inning. He tied that mark for the third time this season. But a huge double play ball from former Bucco Steve Pearce ended the jam.
After retiring his first batter in the fourth, McDonald issued his new season-high sixth walk. Jordan Schafer followed by taking a 2-0 fastball deep to right field to drive in a pair.
The struggles continued in the fifth for McDonald. A leadoff triple to right field started the frame. The runner came around to score after Moore hit an RBI single up the right side. Pearce was next and ripped a double down the third base line. The Pirates decided to intentionally walk Brian Bogusevic to face Chris Snyder with the bases loaded and no outs.
Snyder hit a dribbler just in front of the plate allowing Michael McKenry to grab the ball and tag home to nail the force out. McDonald was able to get a grounder to second to get the second out of the frame, but pushed a fifth run home. McDonald whiffed his final batter looking to end his outing.
Overall, McDonald was charged with five runs on six hits over five frames. He walked a season-high seven while striking out five and threw 110 pitches, 59 strikes.
Correia Makes First Relief Appearance Since Move to ‘Pen
Kevin Correia made his first appearance in relief since being moved into the bullpen on Wednesday. Not since the 2008 season had Correia been a regular reliever. He was then moved back into the rotation in 2009 with San Diego before signing with the Pirates in 2011.
Unless the Pirates trade Correia, or see an injury to the rotation, he will remain in long relief for the club. But according to Rob Biertempefel of the Trib, Correia has asked to be traded. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Pirates have placed a high price on the right-hander. Correia could see some opportunities to spot start in August when the team has a 20 game stretch without a day off.
Correia allowed four runs over two innings of work in relief. Correia took over for McDonald in the sixth inning and allowed a two-out single to Scott Moore. In the seventh, Correia loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a walk before Marwin Gonzalez ripped a bases clearing double down the third base line.
Jones Continues Offensive Tear
Garrett Jones continues to swing a hot stick for Pittsburgh. The right fielder belted his 16th long ball of the season in the fourth inning for an upper deck moon shot to right. The Pirates have homered in 19 straight road games this season.
Jones has now homered three times in his last six games and has knocked in 12 runs in his last 11 games. Jones has gone 24-for-80 (.300) with four doubles, a triple, six home runs and 18 RBI in his last 22 games.