Pirates Notebook: McDonald proclaims himself ready

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CHICAGO -- Pirates right-handed starter James McDonald made a proclamation.

He will be ready.

McDonald, in jeopardy of missing his first scheduled start of the season Tuesday at St. Louis against the Cardinals, said Friday before the opener that he is recovered from an spring-training injury March 11 to his left side.

And to hear him talk, it sounds as if he's fully recovered.

"No ceiling," McDonald said when asked how many pitches he could throw Tuesday. "I can go until they think I am tiring out."

McDonald pitched in a minor league intrasquad game Thursday morning at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. He threw 69 pitches and struck out four batters while giving up four hits and an earned run.

He feels as if his comeback from the side injury can be attributed as much to his health before the injury as it can be to his rehabilitation.

"During the offseason, I pushed myself," said McDonald, who made 11 starts for the Pirates late last season after being acquired July 31 from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I prepared myself."

It would have been difficult, however, to prepare himself for the day he went through Thursday. After pitching in that intrasquad game, McDonald traveled to Chicago to meet the Pirates. Because foul weather in Florida disrupted air travel, he didn't arrive until about 3 a.m. Friday.

The first time

Everything hit rookie relief pitcher Mike Crotta when the Pirates worked out Thursday, the day before the opener. His thoughts as he stood in an empty Wrigley Field and shagged batting-practice balls near the left-field line ...

"I just said to myself, 'I made it, this is my dream.' That isn't something many people get to say or experience."

Crotta and reserve infielder Josh Rodriguez, both 26, spent their first official day on a Major League Baseball roster Friday.

Each player reached Class AAA last season (Crotta with the Pirates' organization; Rodriguez with Cleveland's) and went to spring training with an outside chance to make the opening-day roster.

But as Rodriguez walked into the clubhouse Friday morning, there was a Pirates No. 10 jersey with his the name on the back hanging from his locker.

"It hasn't quite hit me yet," said Rodriguez, who made the team as a Rule 5 pick. "In spring training, I was in that mode where I was trying to fight for a spot. I never got a chance to stop and think about it because I was in constant competition mode down in Florida, just trying to fight for a chance.

"Now all my friends and family are congratulating me and asking me how I feel and, to be honest, I don't think it has all sunk in yet."

Juggling act

The plan for right field has been for left-handed hitting Garrett Jones to start against right-handed pitchers and Matt Diaz to start against left-handers.

But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Friday for the first time that it will not be a strict, set-in-stone platoon situation.

"Diaz is not going to just play against left-handed pitching," Hurdle said of the right fielder who has hit .335 in his career off left-handers. "We have six right-handers right out of the chute [in the first six games]. He will play a game here [in Chicago] and will probably play a game in St. Louis."

Buried treasure

• At first pitch, it was 41 degrees with a slight drizzle and a chilly, soft wind that blew out to left-center field. Hurdle took his usual it-is-what-it-is approach with the weather, a variable he can't control. "I kind of chuckle when people talk about the weather," he said. "It usually shows your age when you talk about the weather. That and the price of gas."

Robert Redford, who starred in the baseball movie 'The Natural,' threw out the ceremonial first pitch. "I think when he knocked the lights out, that was pretty cool," Hurdle said. "That was probably my favorite scene."

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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