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Pirates Notebook: James McDonald Having a Breakout Season


Photo by Mark Olson

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Right-hander James McDonald continues to impress this 2012 season, posting numbers worthy of arguably a nomination for a breakout player in the National League.

Over McDonald’s last six starts, he’s whiffed 52 batters over 41.2 innings since his eight strikeout performance on April 25. During that span, McDonald leads the Majors in the strikeout department, which included a career-high 11 against the Nationals in Washington on May 17.

“I’m happy, but there’s always room for improvement,” McDonald said of his success this year. “Just to be consistent. Don’t be satisfied with what I’ve did. Just keep moving forward. Keep working hard. To have this [success] the entire season.”

The lone run that McDonald allowed in his outing came in the second inning. The right-hander walked two in the frame. The first free pass scored after Mike Nickeas hit a RBI single to left field. He was tagged out trying to stretch the knock into a double to end the inning.

McDonald held the Mets to just one run on four hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out eight batters (which included the side swinging in the first) while throwing 104 pitches, 71 strikes.

“Just getting ahead of guys. Aggressiveness. Strike one, strike two. Keep that mentality. It helped me in the long run,” McDonald said.

Over his last six starts, McDonald has struck out at least seven batters. And over his last seven starts, McDonald has allowed just one run in five of those outings. McDonald has not allowed more than three runs in any of his nine starts this season. After his solid outing on Tuesday, McDonald’s season ERA dropped to just 2.51.

“He’s been throwing well,” utility man Josh Harrison said. “And you can just tell on the mound. The composure. He can get in a jam and he’s not letting anything affect him. He’s still sticking to his game plan and he’s not deviating from it. It’s showing and he’s throwing well…Over the course of the season you can tell he’s made some strides. I can see some confidence in him.”

“James was very, very effective again tonight,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s fun to watch him pitch. Fun to watch him. They stacked some left-handers against him tonight. Five out of six throughout the lineup…The way he was able to pitch to David Wright was impressive as well. Real fun watching J-Mac take another step forward.”


Bucs Unable to Figure Out Knuckle Baller

Right-hander R.A. Dickey held the Pirates to just one run on five hits over seven innings on Tuesday at PNC Park. The knuckle baller whiffed 11 Buccos — which was a career high.

“There used to be a day a long time ago when there were three or four rotating,” Hurdle said. “Those days are long gone, so you do the best you can with what you have, where you are…Unless you’ve tried to hit a knuckle ball, it’s one of the more challenging things that comes across your plate as a Major League hitter. It can make you look funny because where you see it and [when] you swing, it doesn’t even end up anywhere close to that.”

“It’s not fun at all,” McDonald said on facing Dickey. “The ball was just dancing all over the place. Pretty difficult to pick up if you don’t see it everyday.”

The lone run the club was able to score off Dickey came in the sixth. Josh Harrison picked up his second extra base hit off Dickey, a triple into the gap in left center field. Harrison scored the tying run after Andrew McCutchen drove him in with a sac fly to right field.

“To be honest, I just swung,” Harrison said. “Saw it up and swung. I don’t really worry about it breaking. I was just trying to just get ready on time and if I saw it, swung.”

“I don’t know if there really is a trick. You’ve just got to be ready to hit. Try and be down on time and pretty good swing on it…Get down ready like you’re ready for a fastball. If you see one you think is good, swing it.”

Neil Walker, who is a switch-hitter, chose to face R.A. Dickey right-handed despite Dickey allowing right-handed bats to hit .182 off him, while lefties hit for a .342 clip in 2012. Walker in his professional career has always faced knuckle ball pitchers right-handed because it’s more suitable to his swing. The second baseman struck out twice and connected for a single off him on Tuesday.

The Pirates scored a run off the Mets’ bullpen in the bottom of the eighth inning. Jose Tabata doubled into the gap in right center field and scored on a RBI single by Andrew McCutchen with two outs to bring the game within one run in the eventual 3-2 loss.


Harrison Continues to Force Himself in Lineup

Super utility man Josh Harrison continues to find himself in the Pirates lineup. For the second straight game on Tuesday, Harrison got the start in right field — the first two times he’s played in right in the Majors. Harrison currently has a eight-game hitting streak, going 11-for-28 (.393) with four doubles, a triple, a home run and four RBI. Harrison hit for just a .136 clip in April, is hitting .371 in 13 games in May.

“Streak or no streak, I’m just seeing the ball pretty well,” Harrison said. “Not really missing any pitches and putting good swings on it. And it’s just taking care of itself.”

“I was joking with [Bench Coach] Jeff Banister earlier, I’ve got to get the kid a day off,” Hurdle said. “He’s played nine games in a row. He needs a break. I think he’ll get one Thursday [off day]. We’ll just keep finding a spot. I’m not smart enough to try and strategically place him. He’s swinging the bat. He’s bringing energy to the lineup.”

Over his last week, Harrison has seen game action in right field, left field, third base, second base and shortstop.


McGehee Struggling in May

Infielder Casey McGehee has started in eight of the last 11 games at first base, but has been struggling to get his bat going. After snapping his 0-for-20 skid on Saturday, McGehee is hitting just .093 (4-for-43) this month after hitting .269 in April.

“Casey is in the same group, a handful of guys, we’re just trying to square up the fastball,” Hurdle said on what McGehee is working on.”Hit the ball to the big part of the field. We’ve all gone through periods of over complicating things. We’re trying too hard. Trying to do too much. Chasing numbers. All the things that goes through a players mind, or their body action. We just try to settle them down. See it good. Put a good swing on it. Keep it simple. Hit a fastball back through the middle.”

McGehee’s dropped his average down to just .189 on the season after going 0-for-4 with two whiffs on Monday against the New York Mets.


Karstens Tentatively Scheduled for Second Rehab Outing

Right-hander Jeff Karstens tossed three scoreless frames for Double-A Altoona on Monday in his first rehab start since going on the disabled list on April 18. Karstens (right shoulder inflammation) will throw a bullpen on Wednesday, and if no issues will make his second rehab start on May 26. Hurdle said Karstens will pitch four innings, or 60 pitches. The location is still to be determined.


Hughes Notches First Win, Continues Success In Bucco ‘Pen

Right-handed reliever Jared Hughes picked up his first Major League win on Monday night in the Pirates 5-4 victory over the New York Mets. Hughes allowed one hit with a walk and a punch out over a scoreless inning in the 8th.

“It feels good,” Hughes said on notching his first win. “It was a solid game. A good team win. Everybody picked each other up. I know it was my first win, but if I could, I’d give it to my defense because they really picked me up.”

Hughes has made nine straight scoreless appearances (11.0 innings) and has been scored upon in just four of his 16 appearances overall this season. He has a Major League leading 1.19 ERA among rookies.

“I just try to go out there with the same mentality every time,” Hughes said. “I get pumped up. I go out there and just compete. Whatever the situation is, I just compete as hard as I can, then I’ll give my team the best chance to succeed.”

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