Pirates Notebook: Should McDonald Skip A Start in the Rotation?
The second half of the season for James McDonald continues to be a struggle. McDonald has had just two solid starts for the Pirates since the All-Star break. Those outings were a two-hit, six-inning shutout against the Cardinals on August 17th, and a two-hit, seven-inning shutout against St. Louis once again on August 28th. In McDonald’s other 10 starts, the right-hander has allowed 48 runs over 48.0 frames, good for a 9.00 ERA. The second half of the season has ballooned McDonald’s ERA from an impressive 2.37 ERA at the break, to 4.05 ERA after his four run outing on Friday in Chicago.
Overall command of the strike zone has been a huge issue for him. Over 110 frames in the first half, McDonald walked just 31 batters to 100 strikeouts. He’s already passed his first half total in walks, issuing 37 in 61 innings in the second half.
On Friday against the Cubs, McDonald’s struggles continued. The righty’s last trip to the mound on Saturday was a battle as well, but he was able to limit the damage keeping the team in the game allowing three runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings. McDonald wasn’t as lucky in the day game.
McDonald has struggled in the first inning this season, having entered game action having posted a 7.07 ERA in the first inning and a 3.29 ERA from the second inning on. But the right-hander was able to work himself out of a jam to start the bottom of the first.
McDonald fell behind David DeJesus 2-1, and the outfielder ripped a double down the right field line. McDonald needed just one pitch to get Luis Valbuena to line out to center for the first out, but then walked Anthony Rizzo on four pitches. The right-hander was able to get a fly out and pop out to leave both runners stranded.
Following the first inning, McDonald went on to allow two base runners in each of his next three innings, and in the fourth was forced to exit early.
McDonald walked the bases full of Cubs in the fourth, and was pulled from the game after just 3.2 frames. Manager Clint Hurdle called upon lefty Justin Wilson, who allowed a two-run double to right field. Right-hander Chris Leroux was next, who allowed an infield single to short to push across the fourth and final run charged to McDonald. Overall McDonald was charged with four runs on five hits over 3.2 innings. He walked four and struck out two, throwing 83 pitches, 43 for strikes.
The Pirates are in a rough stretch, entering game action three back of St. Louis for the second spot in the Wild Card. With the loss on Friday, they move to a season-high seven-game losing streak. It will be interesting to see what the club decides to do with McDonald. With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, the Pirates need their rotation to provide solid starts to give them a chance for the playoffs. At this point in the second half, McDonald has struggled to be consistent. It could also benefit the right-hander to work on some adjustments during the time off with his side work.
The Pirates had an off day on Thursday, which could allow them to skip McDonald’s next spot in the rotation. Manager Clint Hurdle could also bump A.J. Burnett to Monday in Chicago on regular rest, taking Kevin Correia out of the rotation and giving rookie Kyle McPherson an opportunity for a spot start. The rotation has not yet been set for the series against Milwaukee in Pittsburgh.
Walker Pinch-Hits in First Game Since Back Injury
Neil Walker had missed 15 straight games, due to low back discomfort that forced him out of the lineup for the Pirates. That was until he was able to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning on Friday. The switch-hitter struck out swinging from the right side.
Walker took part in a sim game throw by Jeff Karstens on Tuesday, swinging from both sides of the plate. The second baseman rested on Wednesday, as well as Thursday with the team off day.
Alvarez Returns to Lineup after Wrist Injury
Pedro Alvarez returned to the lineup on Friday in Chicago, after being scratched on Wednesday due to right wrist discomfort. The third baseman was able to rest and treat the injury on Wednesday, and also on the off day on Thursday.
Alvarez snapped his 0-for-14 skid by going 1-for-4 at the plate.
Morris Makes His Major League Debut
Bryan Morris took the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning in Chicago and made his Major League debut. The right-hander needed just nine pitches to toss a perfect frame. Morris induced two groundouts and a fly out in his inning of work.
Morris was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday, where he posted a 2.67 ERA over 81.0 innings of relief. Morris was promoted to Pittsburgh in June, but was not used from the bullpen and optioned back the next day.