CHICAGO -- After another subpar start from James McDonald Friday, the Pirates are seeking a solution. Skipping a start appears a possibility.
Manager Clint Hurdle said Saturday that he spoke with McDonald after his start Friday. He would not directly address skipping a start, but said: "Sometimes, I do think that you've got to look at the option of taking something away from somebody. That's always an option. Is it at the top of the list? I wouldn't say that."
McDonald allowed four runs and walked four in 32/3 innings Friday against Chicago and did not complete the fourth for the second time in his past three starts. He has allowed 14 earned runs in 12 innings in those three starts, walking seven and striking out 10.
"We're looking to find a key to unlock something," Hurdle said. "The challenge you have with young players is sometimes it takes some different keys. And you've got to have different keys. Not one key works for everybody. I think we're trying to work through all the identifiable keys that we might have to unlock him. And we're running out of time."
Jeff Karstens could be used to start, but Hurdle recently said he wants to give rookie Kyle McPherson a start if an opportunity presents itself. McPherson has allowed two runs in 112/3 innings of relief in seven appearances.
In the second half of the season, McDonald has a 7.08 ERA and his batting average against has climbed 90 points. He has walked 37 batters in 61 innings compared to 31 in 110 first-half innings. He also has allowed nearly twice as many second-half home runs (13) as first-half homers (seven).
When evaluating the Pirates' recent play, which included a seven-game losing streak before their win Saturday against the Cubs, Hurdle said he did not think the team's problems were complicated.
"I don't see this as a complex Rubik's Cube whatsoever," Hurdle said. "Look at the way we're playing the game, the inconsistencies that we've had. We've talked about it now for two weeks, and that's why it's gone on for two weeks. To continually get that strong start and mix and match out of the bullpen when you need to. To get hits with runners in scoring position. To play good defense. It's no deeper than that."
The Pirates hit .227 during the previous seven days, and their starting pitchers had a 4.75 ERA in September. But Hurdle said he saw changes from last season, when the Pirates also struggled down the stretch.
"Do I see a commitment level that's different? Yes," Hurdle said. "Do I see a focus that's different? Yes. Do I see preparation that's different? Yes. But we're unfortunately getting the same result."
Neil Walker started his first game since Aug. 26 Saturday. Walker, who missed 15 games because of a sore lower back, pinch-hit Friday. ... Alex Presley, hit in the foot Friday, did not play after going 4 for 10 with a home run and triple in his past four games.