The Turnaround of Pittsburgh Pirates’ Starter James McDonald


After the Pittsburgh Pirates’

victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday, Clint Hurdle praised starter James McDonald.  McDonald had pitched into the eighth inning for the first time this season.

There wasn’t a celebration this time like JMac had done back on August 5th when he got through seven for the first time in 24 starts:

On this rainy day in Pittsburgh, McDonald just showed a focused confidence.  The performance is bittersweet for Pirate fans–similar to taking one last ride on the Thunderbolt at Kennywood on Labor Day weekend.  We know that McDonald and the roller coaster will be around next year, but just wish we could have enjoyed the ride a little more this summer.

McDonald’s  performance didn’t go unnoticed by Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle who had this to say in reflecting on McDonald:

"He had solid downhill plane with his fastball, great tempo, had rhythm…just all of it.  I love the growth and the challenges he continues to take.  He has an intense desire to get all he has inside of him onto the field.The velocity was solid again, it’s the first week of September…. there is just a lot to like about him this season."

Hurdle wasn’t saying these things earlier in the season about the starter, who came over in one of Neal Huntington’s best trades.  Especially after McDonald had an awful first four starts in April, culminating in his worst outing of the year on April 21st.  The right hander had just pitched three innings against the Florida Marlins and allowed eight runs, including two bombs.

We speculated the lanky right hander was hurt.

It couldn’t have been further from the truth, as the turnaround for the 26-year old McDonald started six days later against the World Champion San Francisco Giants.  JMac went six innings, allowed four hits and no runs in a 2-0 Pirates victory.  Since that start, the Long Beach native has opened our eyes and gone from the Bucs’ fifth-best starter to their best.

McDonald has gone from giving up 21 earned runs in his first 18.2 innings pitched over four starts, to giving up 17 earned runs in his past  44 innings over seven starts.

The ride began with McDonald giving up five earned runs in three of his first four starts.  As it cruises to a finish, JMac has allowed five earned runs twice in his past 24 starts,  both times to powerful offenses Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

Damn, it’s been a fun ride.

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