Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle shuffled the rotation for the second half of the season and gave the first start to James McDonald. And based on his impressive season, the right-hander deserved it. McDonald entered the All-Star break ranked third in the National League in ERA (2.37) and second in batting average against (.196). However, both those numbers took a hit in the first game back on Friday in Milwaukee as McDonald struggled from the get-go on the bump.
McDonald allowed five runs (four earned) over just 4.2 innings. He gave up eight hits to the Brewers — the most hits allowed in any of his 18 starts this season. McDonald also tied his season-high with five walks while striking out just two. It also marked the first time this year that McDonald had allowed more than four runs in a start.
The Brewers jumped on McDonald in the first inning, tacking three runs off the right-hander. All the damage came with two outs.
Ryan Braun connected with a 1-2 slider that McDonald left over the heart of the plate and it sailed into right field seats for the first run of the game. McDonald walked his next batter, before giving up a base knock to left field. Both runs would score after Rickie Weeks ripped a RBI double down the third base line. The second run Corey Hart scored on the error by Drew Sutton in left. McDonald escaped the inning after getting his seventh batter to fly out to center.
The 28-year-old needed 34 pitches to get through the three run frame. It marked just the second time this season an opposing team had plated three runs in a single inning off him.
McDonald battled his next two frames, but was able to get out of them unscathed until giving up a run in each inning.
A one-out walk, his fourth of the outing, scored after Braun drove in his second RBI with a single. McDonald ran into trouble again in the fifth, but was unable to finish it off himself. McDonald struck out two batters, but also gave up a walk and a hit. With two outs, Hurdle called upon rookie reliever Jared Hughes. The righty gave up a pinch-hit RBI single to Travis Ishikawa before leaving a runner stranded.
The Pirates bullpen entered game action with the best ‘pen ERA in the Majors at 2.59. But on Saturday, two relievers struggled and combined to give up five earned runs.
Braun continued to hurt the Buccos in the sixth. He connected for his second home run of the night and reached base for the fourth straight at-bat after taking Brad Lincoln deep on a 3-1 fastball.
Most of the damage came in the eighth inning off left-hander Tony Watson who had the tough task of facing the heart of the lineup. After giving up back-to-back singles with one out in the frame, Watson whiffed his next batter Corey Hart. The club chose to intentionally walk Rickie Weeks to face Cody Ransom, who was 0-for-4 with a strikeout on the night. Ransom, however, made Watson pay, and launched a two-strike grand slam into center field to break open the 6-6 tie and plate the eventual winning runs in the 10-7 loss.
Pirates Continue to Break out the Lumber
The Pirates continued to connect for the long ball on the road this season. Pittsburgh leads the National League and are tied for third in the Majors with 55 home runs on the road this season. Last year Pittsburgh hit a total of 58 home runs away from PNC Park. The club is just three shy after 86 games in 2012.
There were three long ball swings for the Pirates bats at Miller Park. The first came from Neil Walker, whose swing of the bat extended his hit streak to 13 games. Walker took a 1-0 curve off starter Zack Greinke for a three-run homer — his seventh of the season. Walker is hitting for a .489 clip during the streak.
Pedro Alvarez was up next for the Pirates in the fourth. The third baseman crushed a 1-0 cutter to right-center field for his 17th of the season. The 17 homers for Alvarez is a career-high. The 25-year-old connected for 16 during his rookie season in 2010. Alvarez leads the Major Leagues in RBI (26) since June 16 and is tied for second with nine home runs in that time.
Andrew McCutchen put those who say the home run derby could affect his swing to rest in the ninth inning. McCutchen hit his 19th home run of the season to center field with two-outs in the inning. The center fielder quietly had a 3-for-4 night with a walk to push his average to .367 on the season. McCutchen leads the Majors in average and is the first Pirate to lead the majors in batting average at the All-Star break since Matty Alou in 1968.
Presley Set for Rehab Assignment
Alex Presley is set to start his rehab assignment for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday. The outfielder was placed on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion that he suffered while making a diving catch in left field at PNC Park on July 3.
He’s since been put through strenuous workouts to test his concussion symptoms. Hurdle said they engaged him on Thursday and also today in order to decide where they would go next.
Presley will travel to Indy and to get some at-bats after the down time, and is expected to return to the Pirates during their road trip in Colorado.
McGehee Returns to the Lineup
Infielder Casey McGehee got the start for the Pirates on Friday after exiting Sunday’s game for a mild left groin strain. The All-Star break came at the perfect time for McGehee, who was able to use the four-day break to rest the injury.
In the sixth inning, McGehee ripped what would have been extra-bases into the North Side Notch which scored a pair, but the infielder stopped at first base. After Hurdle and the trainers looked at him on the field, he was removed from the game and replaced by pinch-runner Gorkys Hernandez.
McGehee went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against Milwaukee.