It’s been a frustrating second half of the season for James McDonald. But there have been signs that the right-hander is bouncing back to his first half form.
McDonald had to battle on Saturday at PNC Park against Chicago. The only clean inning he threw was the first. But he was able to stay away from the big innings, which had caused him trouble in some recent outings prior.
“That was big,” McDonald said. “For me, the problem today was the leadoff hitter. I got the leadoff hitter on too many times. They scored I think every time a leadoff hitter got on. I was happy to keep the damage to a minimum with one run really [staying away] from the big inning, not letting things get out of control.”
“That was real good, as far as competing and being able to finish things off where the innings didn’t get away from him,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “That was a positive.”
McDonald continues to show flashes of getting back on track. The right-hander tossed two shutouts over his four starts prior while pitching at least six innings, but the other two outings, McDonald allowed a total of 11 runs over 7.2 innings. McDonald was coming off his worst outing of the season in which he allowed seven earned runs over just 2.2 frames in Milwaukee. In that outing McDonald gave up four long balls to the Brewers while striking out six batters.
“I think we did see some progress,” Hurdle said. “He was out there competing. He had to stay in the stretch most of the night though. Five out of six innings, the leadoff hitters on base, which made it more of a [challenge] than he probably wanted. He kept battling, he kept making pitches.”
“Obviously much improvement from the last start. There’s room for growth. He’s got to keep pitching, he’s got to keep battling. That was the one thing that complicated things tonight. The velocity was good, the spin was good. The one thing that complicated things was the leadoff hitters on base five out of the six innings he went out there.”
The first inning has been a challenge for McDonald this season. Entering game action, he has posted a 7.33 ERA in the first frame, compared to a 3.21 ERA from the second inning on. McDonald needed just eight pitches to work through a scoreless first inning. One pitch, one out retired David DeJesus. He then got a lineout to Garrett Jones, who made a great diving snag to the right of the first base bag and a strikeout swinging.
But it was after that clean first that McDonald had to battle.
Alfonso Soriano needed just one pitch from McDonald, a 94 mph fastball, to take the right-hander deep for a line drive homer to left field to lead off the second. With one out, Welington Castillo ripped a double down the third base line. But McDonald was able to recover and left the runner stranded by retiring his next two straight.
Back-to-back singles started the third inning. McDonald was able to get Luis Valbuena to ground into a huge 6-4-3 double play, which scored a run to tie the game at 2, but allowed him to escape the inning without it spiraling out of control.
McDonald tossed a scoreless fourth inning, but ran into trouble in the next frame. Tony Campana led off with a ground rule double that bounced just fair down the left field line that bounced into the stands. He then swiped third base before scoring on a one out sac fly from Valbuena.
“He’s got to be able to mix in his slide step, hold, and throw over,” Hurdle said on McDonald allowing the opposing team to run on him. “He’s got to be able to do those things. He’s done them at times. It’s one of the challenging things that he’s got to continue to work with, to master, or to get better at because at times, it does speed him up. And at times, I think sometimes that focus might go left, rather than towards the plate.”
McDonald batted again in the sixth. The right-hander issued a four-pitch leadoff walk, then a single before the Cubs’ starter laid down a sac bunt to push the runners to second and third. Hurdle called upon lefty Tony Watson from the bullpen, who induced a ground out to leave both runners stranded.
“It was decent,” McDonald said on his outing. “I kept my team in the game. As long as I can keep the team in the game, that’s a decent outing for me.”
Overall, McDonald allowed three runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings. He walked two and struck out two while throwing 90 pitches, 56 strikes. McDonald has struggled to pitch deep in his outings in the second half, only going seven frames once, compared to going at least seven innings in nine of his first 17 starts prior to the All-Star break.
Clement Has Clutch First Hit of the Season
Jeff Clement has battled his way back to the Major Leagues this year. After missing most of the 2011 season recovering from knee surgery, Clement resigned with the club in the offseason to a minor league deal and belted up numbers while with Triple-A that finally pushed him back into the big leagues.
Clement had been 0-for-9 at the plate since being recalled from Indy on August 24th, but with two runners on and down by a run, the left-hander took a big swing of the bat and ripped a RBI single off the scoreboard in right field to tie the game up at 3. It marked his first Major League hit this season, and his first since the 2010 season in Pittsburgh.
“He’s been battling,” Hurdle said. “It’s a great story, him batting back, getting back to the big leagues and getting some at-bats now. To show up the way he did tonight late, to tie the ballgame, big swing of the bat for him. He’s got to feel better. He’s put in a lot of hard work and there’s been a lot of years in-between Major League appearances, so good for him.”
Hurdle Balancing Usage of September Callups
Manager Clint Hurdle is faced with a different challenge in the month of September this season, from the year prior in 2011. When the rosters expanded, Hurdle used the final month to watch prospects get their feet wet and get looks on which players could contribute at this level for next season. This year, however, Hurdle has to balance getting looks at the prospects for the future, while still playing in the present now.
The Pirates enter game action just 1.5 games back from St. Louis for the second spot in the Wild Card. Hurdle has been able to come with certain situations where it’s okay to play a rookie without putting too much of the game on the line.
“I think that’s something that we try to look at appropriately with Neal’s [Huntington] input, with Kyle’s [Stark] input, with the player development people, adding the information from what they’ve seen from people, from our players throughout the season,” Hurdle said. [Brock] Holt is a perfect example, [Jeff] Locke is another one.”
“For instance last night, if we do get down we’re going to look for different bridges of pitching to get us back in the game, or hold us where we are, whether it be [Justin] Wilson, to get another look at [Chris] Leroux. Kyle McPherson’s pitched three times. So you look for opportunities to get those guys involved as well with the focus on winning the game, or holding the spot when you’re behind. There will be some opportunities to move upon that and do that I do believe. You’ve really got to be aware, and you don’t want to miss them. If you get caught up in the daily chain of events, you can miss some opportunities to get some guys some exposure and get them some experience.”
Pirates Set Rotation in Cincinnati
Manager Clint Hurdle set the rotation for the upcoming series in Cincinnati. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez will take the ball on Monday with right-handers Kevin Correia (Tuesday) and A.J. Burnett (Wednesday) to follow. The rotation has not been set for the upcoming Chicago series yet, which kicks off on Friday.
— Neil Walker (low back) took swings again in the cage on Saturday for the second day in a row.
— Jeff Karstens (hip flexor) threw a bullpen today. The next step for him, Hurdle said, if he feels fine, will be a sim game on Tuesday in Cincinnati and then they will go from there.
— Both Travis Snider (hamstring) and Jose Tabata (bruised foot) took batting practice today but were held out of the lineup. Hurdle said that the issue for Tabata was that he was still having issues running.