McDonald gets 1st complete game despite not having good slider
June 22, 2012 4:00 AM
Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pirates starter James McDonald gave up one run in a complete game Thursday against the Twins at PNC Park.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After James McDonald's previous start, he and Rod Barajas had a talk.
Barajas told McDonald that he needed to be the pitcher that wants to pitch seven to nine innings every time out.
"Before I didn't even think about that," McDonald said. "Now I expect seven innings every time."
Once he reached the seventh inning Thursday night, that thought on his mind, there was no slowing down. McDonald pitched the first complete game of his career in a 9-1 win against the Minnesota Twins at PNC Park.
"I finally believed in myself that I could finish the game," McDonald said. "When I got out there I felt like it was the first inning all over again."
McDonald allowed one run on six hits, striking out five without walking a batter. He threw 120 pitches, the most he has thrown this season.
After fielding a ground ball from Ben Revere and sprinting to step on first base himself to end the eighth inning, the crowd of 21,563 recognized his efforts with hearty applause.
He came out to hit in the bottom of the eighth, and manager Clint Hurdle said there was no hesitation to send him back out.
"It was a good hot night, he was loose, he was smelling it from the seventh on," Hurdle said. "He got himself in a position to do it and he did it."
He did it, according to McDonald and Barajas, without a full quiver: He lacked a good slider Thursday night.
"When he has his best stuff, he has the fastball, the curveball and the slider working," Barajas said. "He became a two-pitch guy and it's hard to be a two-pitch guy at this level and have success."
The absence of his slider didn't affect his performance. The only run the Twins scored against him came in the fourth, when Trevor Plouffe doubled and scored on Ryan Doumit's single.
"Even though he was falling behind, even when he was in hitters counts, a lot of guys weren't squaring him up," Barajas said.
"That's a nice luxury to have. With J-Mac, you just want to keep the rhythm going."
And keep the rhythm he did.
"He was even working quicker in between pitches in the seventh and eighth than he was previously in the game," Hurdle said.
McDonald has two four-inning outings on his resume this season, yet has not allowed more than three runs in any game this season. He lowered his ERA to 2.19 and improved to 6-3. McDonald attributed the success to guidance from Barajas and A.J. Burnett, as well as his coaching staff.
"We've been in his ear from day one in spring training," Barajas said.
A barrage of home runs in the later innings put the game out of reach and helped the Pirates win the series against the Twins.
Barajas homered in the sixth, and Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez each hit one in the seventh.
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 with a double and a triple and scored two runs. In the first, he lined a ball into right-center field that sailed past the glove of a diving Revere and ended up on third.
Alexi Casilla dived to stop Jones' ground ball, but had no play, and McCutchen scored to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
McCutchen's double with the bases loaded in the second scored three runs and put the Pirates ahead, 4-0.
Alvarez singled in the sixth before Barajas hit his seventh home run, extending the Pirates' lead to 6-1. Twins starter Liam Hendriks hung a 1-1 breaking ball that Barajas hit out to left-center field.
Jones hit a laser beam over the wall in right field for his eighth, a two-run shot that scored McCutchen, and Alvarez followed with his 13th shortly after. He crushed a changeup low and inside that bounced off the railing at the top of the seats in right field and out of the ballpark.
The Pirates have scored at least seven runs in four of their past five games and found the power switch to their offense, which struggled in April and early May. McDonald, too, suppressed the issue of pitching deep into games that plagued him at times in 2011.
"It's another step forward for him, it's on the resume," Hurdle said.
"Last year, all the discussion about lack of length, not being able to pitch efficiently. He's knocking things down here one at a time, this was another one to get knocked down."