McDonald fans eight in sizzling debut for Pirates
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It was difficult to discern what was most impressive about James McDonald's debut.
Eight strikeouts in six sizzling, scoreless innings?
Four strikeouts to open the game?
Six strikeouts of the first seven batters?
No, try this instead: McDonald's performance was so captivating that the crowd of 17,131 at the Pirates' 5-1 clobbering of the Colorado Rockies Thursday night at PNC Park was doing the two-strike clap in unified anticipation of the third strike.
It is heard all across Major League Baseball, but not for a starter on Pittsburgh soil since ... what, Oliver Perez's early days?
Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-10, 5.36) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (7-6, 4.37).
Key matchup: Duke vs. Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes, who hit back-to-back home runs off him July 27 in Denver.
Of note: The Pirates have lost only one series to the Rockies at PNC Park in the stadium's 10-year history, that a three-game sweep in 2007.
"I've never heard that here," shortstop Ronny Cedeno said. "That was fun. You could feel the energy, from the fans, on the field ... wow."
Garrett Jones and Cedeno homered, Neil Walker had two more timely hits, and the patchwork bullpen combination of Wil Ledezma, Sean Gallagher, Justin Thomas and newcomer Chris Resop finished it off.
But forget that.
McDonald, the lanky 6-foot-5 right-hander acquired Saturday from Los Angeles in the Octavio Dotel trade, turned in the most stirring work of any starter wearing the uniform this summer, even if his pitch count was limited because he had not started since July 19, and his final three appearances with the Dodgers were in relief.
The six-inning line included four singles -- only one solidly struck -- and a walk, but the headliner was the strikeouts: Four came on the changeup, two on 94-mph heat, two on the curve.
All came swinging.
In fact, the Rockies swung through a remarkable 18 percent of McDonald's 89 pitches.
"Pretty good, wasn't it?" manager John Russell said, with a smile. "That's the way I remember him pitching against us. Just dominating."
That was a Sept. 15 relief appearance in Pittsburgh of three scoreless innings, one Russell had cited all week in his hearty endorsement of general manager Neal Huntington's trade.
"His fastball was very lively, good angle," Russell continued. "His changeup was really good. I don't remember his changeup being like that."
Funny thing, but neither could anyone else, including the pitcher himself.
"I didn't expect my change to be that good," McDonald said. "It was really good. Felt like I could throw it any count at any time."
Colorado's hitters, many of whom faced him frequently in the West Division, were no less surprised.
"His changeup was on, and it was tough to pick up," second baseman Clint Barmes said. "Plus, he was throwing in the mid-90s."
Barmes struck out twice, on 94-mph heat and a change.
"It's kind of sneaky," third baseman Ian Stewart said of the changeup. "He short-arms over the top."
McDonald tends to be short on words, too, and he was just as quiet and collected afterward as he appeared on the mound.
On making such a debut: "It's just nice to have a chance to start every five days. I'm excited about that."
Asked if he was having fun: "Yeah, I was having fun. When you get ahead, pitching can be fun."
There were 14 first-pitch strikes to 21 batters.
Had McDonald pitched a bit longer, he might have challenged the franchise record for strikeouts in a team debut, the 11 of Dick Hall in 1955. As it was, his total was the highest in a debut for the Pirates since Zach Duke's nine in 2005, the most in Pittsburgh since Tim Wakefield's 10 in 1992.
It also matched the most by any starter this season, along with Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton.
Russell credited McDonald with the offensive outburst that backed him right off the bat.
"I think it showed," Russell said. "You get pitching like that, it will energize your team. You know you've got an outstanding chance to win that game, and the guys saw that right away in that first inning."
So, McDonald set down Seth Smith, Barmes and Carlos Gonzalez swinging in the first.
Leading off the second, Jones snapped on 0-for-20 slump by belting Jeff Francis' 3-1 curve well over the Clemente Wall for his 15th home run. Later in the inning, Lastings Milledge singled and, with two outs, Cedeno lasered a ball inside the left-field foul pole for a two-run shot, his sixth home run.
Walker's RBI single in the third brought another, and his leadoff double in the sixth was followed by a Pedro Alvarez bullet single through a drawn-in infield to make it 5-0.
Resop closed it out, completing a "crazy 24 hours" of being claimed on waivers from Atlanta, packing up his family and belongings, flying into Pittsburgh in the afternoon and arriving at the ballpark at 5:45 p.m. He struck out Stewart for the finish.
"Took my physical, and went right into the game," Resop said. "But that was a nice way to wrap it all up."
The Pirates have taken three of four from Colorado this season.
First Published August 6, 2010 12:00 am