Pirates Notebook: James McDonald coming to grips with his second-half failures

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During James McDonald's exceptional first half of the season, he said, he succeeded by executing pitches regardless of the outcome.

He strayed from that approach in the second half.

"If they get a hit, you got to tip your hat to them," said McDonald, who was moved to the bullpen because of his lack of production in the second half. "You can't let that affect you. In the first half, that didn't affect me. If I did make a pitch and they got a hit, I was going right at them with the same stuff I had."

McDonald struck out 100 batters in 110 first-half innings. He walked 31 and had a 2.37 ERA. In 61 second-half innings before Saturday, he walked 38 and had a 7.52 ERA.

"I think in the second half I tried to do too much," McDonald said. "I tried to put it 'here,' instead of saying, here it is. If it's not right on the black, it didn't matter to me. The aggressiveness on the mound and the mentality on the mound was completely different."

McDonald has made one relief appearance and allowed three runs on two hits and a walk without recording an out. He said he is focusing on improving his consistency.

"Look at the first half and the second half, two opposite ways," he said. "Instead of having five bad starts in a row, cut it down to maybe one or two and get back on."

McDonald recently had his end-of-season exit interview with manager Clint Hurdle, who said he encouraged McDonald to write down his thoughts on what helped him and what held him back.

"There's got to be conversation about it, there's got to be, I do think, cleansing," Hurdle said. "I think he's started that process now."

McDonald stopped throwing side sessions after moving to the bullpen.

"We had him try and do a couple things down there and now we've just slowed everything down," Hurdle said.

The time out of the starting rotation, Hurdle said, could help McDonald view his season with more clarity.

"There are probably times when guys will, once the season ends and the closure of the season comes, there can actually be, OK, now the clock can reset and actually get everything in place for '13," Hurdle said.

Hurdle has said McDonald will not necessarily have to earn a spot in the '13 rotation, whose members are uncertain after A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. In addition to McDonald and Jeff Karstens, who is eligible for his final year of arbitration and missed a good portion of this season due to two different injuries, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson will have a chance to earn a spot. Charlie Morton will not return until midseason.

McDonald also is eligible for arbitration for the first time.

Batting title update

Andrew McCutchen entered the Saturday night game against the Cincinnati Reds with a .330 average and trailing San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey by four points.

McCutchen was 8 for 38 in the previous 10 games before Saturday night, dropping his average 10 points. Posey hit .333 in the 10 games leading up to Saturday night.

The previous Pirates player to win a batting title was Freddy Sanchez, who hit .344 in 2006.

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