ALTOONA --- The Pirates went through their final tune up today before Monday's opener as they played an exhibition game against their Class AA affiliate the Curve in Altoona at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
The Pirates lost, 8-6, to the Curve but the score of the game was far less relevant than the individual performances of some key players because the rosters were mixed and matched based on situations and both managers made sure all of the position players and most of the pitchers got into the game.
The most important player in the game, perhaps, was pitcher James McDonald, who started for the Pirates and is slated to be the No. 3 starter for the team this season.
McDonald was one of the best pitchers in the National League during the first half of the season but went through a prolonged slump in the second half of the season and management is hoping he rebounds and regains his dominant form of last spring and early summer.
But if today is any indication, McDonald is closer to second-half form as he was rocked in this game despite only pitching two innings.
McDonald gave up four runs -- all earned -- on three hits, four walks, two wild pitches but he did strike out two.
Also, reliever Tony Watson is supposed to be a key member of the Pirates bullpen, but he didn't fare much better as he pitched for the Curve in this game and lasted only 2/3 innings and gave up three hits, a walk, four runs (all earned) and a grand slam home run.
A positive, though, is that it was starting leftfielder Starling Marte who hit the grand slam and he finished the day 2-for-3 with four RBI.
Also, Russell Martin was 2-for-2 and Travis Snider, who was the only player to play the entire game though he was the designated hitter, was 2-for-4.
Pirates pitchers, however, walked 11 batters and four wild pitches, so control was clearly an issue but reliever Mark Melancon did work a scoreless inning and was fairly dominant in getting three outs while facing only four batters.
The atmosphere at Peoples Natural Gas Field was electric as there was a franchise record crowd of 10,116 in attendance and there was a large group sitting on the hillside beyond the left field bleachers.
Curve general manager Rob Egan also announced that the franchise was awarded the 2014 Eastern League All Star game.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise