The Pittsburgh Pirates starting staff was one of the best heading into the All-Star break, but have had some struggled in the second half. One of those starting five has been James McDonald, who entered the break with an impressive 2.37 ERA. The right-hander’s second half has been a struggle since Manager Clint Hurdle bumped him to the No. 1 spot in the Pirates rotation.
McDonald entered game action with an 8.71 ERA over his last four starts since the break, but on Saturday night in Cincinnati was able to take some strides forward. The right-hander bounced back with a quality start for Pittsburgh despite the club’s 5-4 loss to the first place Reds.
The right-hander allowed three earned runs on seven hits over six innings. He walked just one while striking out seven and threw 98 pitches, 61 for strikes. The seven whiffs were the most in an outing from McDonald since he struck out 10 on July 7, his final start before the break. It also marked the first time since then that he allowed less than four earned in an outing.
McDonald battled through the first several frames, but was able to settle in after the third frame.
Two runs (one earned) scored off McDonald in the first frame. Zack Cozart led off the game up a single into center field. Drew Stubbs followed by laying down a sac bunt. Pedro Alvarez came running in from third base to snag the ball, but his throw to first was wide and flew into the stands for an error, allowing the runners to advance to second and third.
McDonald got a huge strikeout by getting Jay Bruce to chase for the first out. After battling former Bucco Ryan Ludwick through a nine pitch at-bat, the final pitch — an 81 mph slider — whiffed Ludwick for the second out of the frame. Scott Rolen came up to the plate next and took the first pitch and laced a two-run single into right field. McDonald was able to escape the inning after getting Todd Frazier to ground out, but needed 23 pitches to do so.
McDonald followed that inning up a with perfect second frame, but ran into trouble in the third.
After retiring his first batter on one pitch to start the third, McDonald then gave up back-to-back base knocks. Ludwick, who struck out in his first at-bat, roped an RBI double off the wall in left field to retake a 3-2 lead. With two outs, Frazier hit an infield single to short to plate a fourth run.
McDonald went on to allow just one base runner over his final three frames — a two-out walk in the fourth — and struck out four of five batters through a stretch in the fifth to sixth frames.
Correia to Make Spot Start Against Arizona
Kevin Correia will make his first spot start on Wednesday August 8th against Arizona at PNC Park, pushing the Pirates rotation back a day.
Correia has made just one relief appearance since being bumped to the bullpen when the club acquired left-hander Wandy Rodriguez from Houston. Last Sunday he allowed four runs over two innings. His last start came on July 25th.
The Pirates endure a 20 game stretch without an off day, which started on Thursday. Hurdle mentioned previously that left-hander Jeff Locke is also a candidate for spot starts during the tough stretch in August.
Correia will be made available in relief on Sunday if needed.
High Emotions Continue As Harrison Gets Drilled
Stemming off Andrew McCutchen’s hit by pitch in the ninth inning from Aroldis Chapman on Friday night, the Pirates saw another player get drilled from the Cincinnati pitching staff.
Josh Harrison got plunked with two outs in the second inning, and had words to starter Mike Leake as he took first base. Leake started walking towards Harrison as both benches got on their feet. The home plate umpire warned both benches, not allowing the Pirates to retaliate. Skipper Clint Hurdle came out to argue and was tossed from the game.
Harrison had a different kind of retaliation as he went deep off Leake in his very next at-bat, his third of the season.
The Pirates starter James McDonald chose not to retaliate for the club’s All-Star center fielder McCutchen in the game on Saturday. Perhaps a missed opportunity came and gone after allowing his first two base runners to single before Jay Bruce, who was their most popular player in the lineup, came to the plate.
McKenry Hits Fifth for First Time in Career
Michael McKenry has been swinging a hot bat for the Pirates. So much in fact that Hurdle penciled in the catcher’s name into the fifth spot in the lineup for the first time in his Major League career.
His hot bat continued as McKenry had a two hit night for the Pirates, which included a leadoff home run to left field in the second frame. It was his 11th on the season and eighth in his last 22 games. McKenry is batting .388 over his last 21 games.
The backup catcher has seen his playing time increase due to his offensive streak. Hurdle also used McKenry to split up the left-handed bats of Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez in the lineup.
McKenry is the first right-handed hitting catcher from the Pirates to hit 10 or more home runs in a season since Jason
Kendall, who smacked 14 during the 2000 campaign. McKenry is averaging a HR a team-best every 13.20 times at bat.