Pirates notebook: McDonald looks good in second rehab start

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The box score read like a misprint.

It said James McDonald threw 38 pitches in four innings in a rehabilitation start Saturday with Class AA Altoona. That is an efficient outing by itself, but especially so considering McDonald threw 33 pitches without getting out of the first inning in his previous rehab start.

But the stat line was correct. McDonald, who is rehabbing after shoulder pain forced him to the disabled list in early May, allowed two hits in four scoreless innings, walking one and striking out two.

"I think we just got to see both ends of the ruler," manager Clint Hurdle said.

McDonald's fastball sat between 88 and 92 mph, Hurdle said, and he used all of his pitches. The Altoona staff timed McDonald's delivery from the stretch as low as 1.19 seconds.

Despite the low pitch count, the staff removed McDonald after four innings.

"Little did we anticipate that he'd throw 38 pitches," Hurdle said. "We take what we got and we'll move on."

McDonald's shoulder felt good after the game. He is scheduled to start Thursday for Class AAA Indianapolis.

Instructions for Morton

Charlie Morton had 80 pitches to work with in his rehab start Sunday night for Indianapolis, and clear instructions on how to use them.

"We've told him what we want him to do and we expect him to follow through with it right now," Hurdle said.

The Pirates want Morton, who is nearing the end of his rehab from a Tommy John ligament replacement procedure he had almost a year ago, to perfect his two-seam sinking fastball. They also want him to throw his four-seamer, curveball and changeup. They do not want him to worry about throwing a cutter, a pitch he has tinkered with for two years to keep left-handers from sitting on his sinker.

"There's no more experimenting with the cutter," Hurdle said.

"Right now, nail the sinker, throw the four-seamer, throw the curveball and the changeup and just go from there. And really, the control of the running game component, the release times, three pitches or less -- we want action on three pitches or less and see where this takes us."

In Morton's rehab start May 27, he allowed five runs, four earned, in five innings. He walked three, struck out three and allowed seven hits.

Lineup shuffle

Hurdle gave Travis Snider the day off Sunday and started Alex Presley in right field. He also put Presley and Starling Marte in the first two slots in the order, putting Neil Walker third and Andrew McCutchen in the cleanup spot.

"I'm just trying to find a way to move some pieces around to maybe generate some more offense," Hurdle said.

The Pirates entered Sunday on the heels of two consecutive shutouts and one run scored in the past three games. They had averaged 2.7 runs per game in their past 10 games.

In April, the Pirates averaged 4.07 runs per game despite barely hitting at all for the first week of the season. That dropped to 3.53 in May. Their 3.73 runs per game this season rank 11th in the National League.

McCutchen batted fourth for the 28th time in his career Sunday. The other 27 came in 2011.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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