Dealing with a loss of velocity his manager called "perplexing," pitcher James McDonald said Tuesday he is not injured.
"I feel fine," McDonald said one day after giving up eight runs, three earned, in 1 2/3 innings of a loss against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Though he said he is not dealing with an injury, McDonald said his body feels a bit "beat up."
His four-seam fastball average speed this season is 2 mph slower than in 2012 and almost 3 mph slower than in 2011, according to FanGraphs.com. His two-seam fastball shows similar lag. He said he has dealt with similar velocity issues in the past, adding that his first three starts last year were challenging in the same regard.
"All of a sudden, it's like you go through a zone where it's like I've got nothing," he said. "I've gone through that issue last year. ... As the season got going, I got adjusted to night games, every five days, things started turning around."
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m. today, PNC Park.
- TV, radio:
MLB Network, KDKA-FM (93.7)
RHP A.J. Burnett (0-2, 3.71) vs. RHP Shelby Miller (2-0, 1.46).
- Key matchup:
Burnett vs. Carlos Beltran. The switch-hitter is 9 for 30 in his career against Burnett.
- Hidden stat:
Miller allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings in his previous start.
His lowest velocity game last season came in his second start. But he cracked a 90 mph average with his four-seam fastball in his first two starts. He has done that only once this season. McDonald said he could feel the decreased velocity.
"I'm throwing it," he said. "I can feel it. How many times do you see some pitchers go out there and they don't have their good stuff? You don't have your good stuff every single time you pitch."
His three starts this season rank among the bottom four of all his starts since 2011, according to FanGraphs.
"I talked to him [Monday] night," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Is he 100 percent on top of this game? No. Is he feeling anything that he doesn't think is manageable? There's nothing he can put his finger on."
McDonald wants to ramp up his activity in hopes of building arm strength. He worries backing off between starts would set him back further in his development.
"We'll have the trainers continue to monitor some stuff, our strength and conditioning guys," Hurdle said.Hurdle said he has no reason to believe McDonald will not make his next scheduled start, at home Saturday against Atlanta. He also believes McDonald has been candid and forthcoming with injury concerns, although, as a former player, he said he does not expect any player to tell the coaching staff or trainers about every issue and ailment immediately.
"There gets a point where all of us need to get to a point where we know that our 75 or our 80 percent might not be as good as somebody else's 100 percent," Hurdle said. "We want to push them through some things."
McDonald pitched well in his first start this season, limiting the Chicago Cubs to one run through seven innings. He struggled early in his second start, against Arizona, but recovered enough to earn earned the win.
He finished the last season poorly, walking 38 batters in 61 innings after the All-Star break while his opponent batting average rose almost 100 points, from .196 in the first half to .292. His ERA rose from 2.37 to 7.52, and Hurdle eventually removed him from the rotation.
Meanwhile, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez is scheduled to throw 25 pitches in a bullpen session today before a final determination is made on his ability to start Friday. Rodriguez left a start early due to a strained left hamstring last week and missed a start over the weekend.
He has been throwing without pushing off from his left leg.