It’s been a whirlwind season for rookie Kyle McPherson. From starting the season on the minor league disabled list, to getting his arm back healthy in Double-A, then dominating in his short stay at the Triple-A level, McPherson saw the deserving jump to the Majors. The hard work that McPherson put in this challenging year has paid off. And he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“It’s like living out of a suitcase, really. Starting the season on the DL, and then coming back from that, and working through Altoona, moving onto Indianapolis in preparation to be where I’m at now,” McPherson said, then paused for several seconds to sum up the year while flashing a smile in front of his Major League locker at PNC Park.
“Definitely wasn’t the year that I was expecting by any means. I’m here now, and I’m prepared to make a difference.”
The start of the season didn’t go as planned for the Pirates 2011 minor league Pitcher-of-the-Year. McPherson was originally slated to start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, but a right shoulder injury that he suffered during spring training forced him to start on the disabled list. McPherson missed two months of the season, then was sent back to Double-A Altoona, where he posted a 3.02 ERA over 16 starts in 2011, to get on track.
“Coming into spring training, every player has high hopes for the season forbid injury,” McPherson said. “But injuries happen. It’s just a part of it. I took that one. I was out for two months. Coming back from that, I really didn’t know what the rest of the season held for me other than just continuing to work and focusing on the things that I could control.”
McPherson struggled with Altoona over his first several starts. He posted a 4.76 ERA over his first three starts in June, but found success in July. Pitching coach Jeff Johnson said it was almost like knocking off the rust a pitcher normally would have in spring training for McPherson, due to his injury set back. Once he got on a roll with Altoona, McPherson carried that on to the next level.
The 24-year-old needed just three starts at the Triple-A level to prove that he was ready for an even bigger opportunity. McPherson allowed just two earned runs on 11 hits over 18.1 frames (0.98 ERA). He walked four and struck out 17 while holding the opposing hitter to just a .172 clip.
“I saw a very aggressive pitcher who likes to use his fastball, who likes to use both sides of the plate,” Indianapolis Manager Dean Treanor said. “He’s not afraid to pitch in. And with that, he attacks hitters very well. That’s really what you’re looking for, somebody that’s going to go out there and attack and that’s what he did for us. In the little bit that I’ve seen up here, he’s taken that same approach.”
“I really just stayed focused on the little things and the aspects of my game of attacking hitters and not being afraid to go at them in any count, not backing down,” McPherson said. “They want to feel comfortable in the box, and the more than I can make them feel uncomfortable, then the better the outcome will be for myself. That’s what seemed to work for me all the way up.”
The day after the Pirates battled through a 19-inning win in St. Louis, the club promoted McPherson along with teammate Justin Wilson. The right-hander’s lengthy morning flight to San Diego and jet lag didn’t hinder his performance against the Padres. In his big league debut on August 20th, McPherson allowed just one hit over two scoreless frames, including a pair of strikeouts. His first big league punchout came on a 1-2, 95 mph fastball to Padres’ pitcher Edison Volquez.
“It was nerve-wracking to say the least,” McPherson recalled of his Major League debut. “The first time in San Diego on a major league team, that’s just something you dream of as a kid. Just getting that call. But yeah, the heart goes a racing and the adrenaline starts pumping. You just really try to focus on hitting the mitt the best that you can.”
“In this atmosphere, that feeling never goes away. It’s something you look forward to whether you’re starting the game or coming in relief. It’s something that definitely every player at this stage looks forward to, just that adrenaline rush.”
After McPherson was promoted back to the Majors 10 days later, he was informed that his role with the club would be in the bullpen for the time being. And he thrived despite not pitching in relief since the 2010 season with High-A Bradenton in the playoffs. He made five appearances out of the bullpen, allowing just one run over eight frames.
“It’s been a couple years since I’ve had relief outings and appearances,” McPherson said. “It was definitely a major adjustment. Dealing with the bigger stadium, grander stage, the whole thing. I had veteran guys here with Tony Watson and [Jared] Hughes and Jason Grilli, guys like that [who have] seen a lot more Major League experience than I have. Those are guys that I’ve tried to stick to. I watched how they went about their business from the early work, to their pregame work, to their in-game situations and it definitely paid off.”
That experience in relief helped McPherson get his feet wet for his next opportunity — his first Major League start.
When a spot opened up in the rotation after Hurdle decided to move a struggling James McDonald into the rotation, McPherson was given the nod. Having spent the past several weeks in relief, the right-hander was limited to how deep he could go. McPherson admitted after the start that he was nervous, but knew he had to turn the page and have a quick memory after giving up a long ball on just the second pitch of the game. He was able to get rid of the bad, and settle in. The rookie allowed one more run in his fifth inning of work to overall charge him with two over 4.1 frames.
“I think his composure has been good here,” Treanor said. “That’s one of the things that I’ve always heard about him coming up through the system, that he’s more mature than the other guys that he’s around. I think that’s shown here. That’s obviously a positive for him.”
“He seems to be older than his years,” Hurdle said. “We’ll see how that plays out. He’s a very mature young man, very competitive. He’s shown good mound poise and presence.”
The Pirates decided that they wanted more opportunities and ample looks at McPherson this season, telling the righty that he would remain in the rotation over Jeff Karstens. McPherson will make his second professional start on Monday in New York. And given all the other challenges he’s worked his way through this season, this will be another test for him to prove he can handle this one, too.
“I’ve heard a lot of good makeup things about him, good mound presence,” Hurdle said. “We’ve saw some of that in San Diego the first time we gave him the ball. We’ve seen it from time to time now. I think this is a young man that we think very highly of.”