James McDonald: The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Syndrome


Tonight we saw the James McDonald that Pirates’ fans wish they saw every outing. JMac was dealing all game, giving up only 2 hits and striking out nine on his way to his second win of the season. Both hits were given up to notorious Pirate killer, Chris Johnson. And when I say Pirates killer… I mean Pirates killer.

In the last two seasons, Johnson has hit for a .370 average, with 12 extra base hits, 5 homers, and 12 RBI against the Bucs. Thankfully, after tomorrow we won’t have to see him again until June.

April 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (23) hits a two run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There were some command issues as McDonald walked 4 in 6 innings, including the run-scoring walk to Andrelton Simmons in the second. This would prove to be the only run allowed by McDonald and company. It was a very good sign that JMac kept his composure after walking in a run and then getting out of a bases loaded jam with no other damage. McDonald has been known to collapse in on himself when things get bad, especially in the early innings. To see him bear down was a welcome sight for any Bucco fan. His continued calm kept the Pirates in the game, and King James cruised from there on out.

Since Thursday’s home run derby, the Pirates’ pitching staff has shut down the hot bats of Hotlanta. Between Wandy’s fantastic performance and McDonald’s gem, the Braves have been held to just 5 hits and 1 run in the last two days.

This is the type of outing that leaves Pirates’ fans scratching their heads and asking, “Who is this guy, and where has he been?” So, who is the real James McDonald…or are there actually two of them??

The Dr. Jekyll Version:

Here is McDonald’s line from last year before the All-Star break:

2.37 ERA, 9-3, 13 GS, 1 CG, 110 IP, 76 Hits, 29 ER, 7 HR, 31 BB, 100 K, .196 AVG, .972 WHIP.

Those numbers are crazy good. Just to put it in perspective, only Jered Weaver, R.A. Dickey, Justin Verlander, and Chris Sale had a better WHIP and pitched over 90 innings. All four of those pitchers were All-Stars.

In two out of his four outings this year McDonald has flashed this same type of pitching ability.

Against Chicago, McDonald pitched 7 innings of 2 hit ball and allowed only 1 run while striking out 4. He was a victim of the Pirates’ early season offense though, and wound up with the loss.

In today’s game McDonald was once again terrific. As noted above he went 6 innings, gave up 1 run on 2 hits and 4 walks, fanning 9 in the process. This time, McDonald was rewarded for his strong performance and won his second game of the season to improve to 2-2.

The Mr. Hyde Version:

As good as McDonald was in the first half last year, that’s how bad he was in the second half. Here is that stat line:

7.52 ERA, 3-5, 12 GS, 61 IP, 71 Hits, 51 ER, 14 HR, 38 BB, 51 K, .292 AVG, 1.787 WHIP

In his other two starts this year McDonald has pitched 6.2 innings, allowed 12 hits, given up 6 walks, and 12 runs.

Someone who isn’t a Pirates fan would probably think the Pirates’ have two different James McDonalds on their roster. I’m even beginning to wonder myself. Many people have asked “Who is the real McDonald?” Right now, I really don’t think there is an answer for that. Pirates’ Nation will likely always have to take the good with the bad when JMac takes the bump. Some nights Dr. Jekyll will go out and dominate, and others Mr. Hyde will just plain suck. Pittsburgh will just have to play the waiting game when he pitches – and really, isn’t the suspense of finding out which version we’ll see half the fun?

Okay, so it really isn’t all that much fun… but outings like this make it worth the wait.

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