Bullpen bails out McDonald in Pirates' 5-3 win
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, right, high-fives Yamaico Navarro after their 5-3 victory against the Nationals Thursday in Washington. McCutchen hit two home runs in the game.
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WASHINGTON -- For five innings, James McDonald could not be touched.
He weaved breaking pitches around the bats of the Washington Nationals, retiring them in order one inning after the next. Five innings without a hit, a solitary walk blemishing his line, and the Pirates had a four-run lead.
When McDonald began to slow, however, he slammed to a halt.
- Game: Pirates at Tigers, 7:05 p.m., Comerica Park.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Probables: RHP Charlie Morton (2-3, 4.05) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (4-1, 2.47).
- Key matchup: Every Pirates pitcher vs. Prince Fielder, who has 27 home runs and a .940 OPS in 98 career games against the Pirates.
- Hidden stat: Verlander is 15-2 with a 2.94 ERA in interleague play.
The Nationals took advantage of McDonald in the sixth, and the Pirates bullpen gave the Nationals hope. But the bullpen also preserved a 5-3 win Thursday night at Nationals Park.
"He went from no-no to oh-no," manager Clint Hurdle said of McDonald.
McDonald (3-2) took a no-hitter into the sixth before Jesus Flores hit a leadoff double. He also took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Colorado Rockies in April before Troy Tulowitzki broke it up.
He struck out 11 batters in 5 2/3 innings Thursday, but allowed three runs on four hits in a sixth inning that tarnished his stellar outing.
"My goal at the end of the day is to see my team walk off with a victory," McDonald said. "We accomplished that today. I kept my team in the game as best I could. The bullpen guys stepped up and kept it going."
He struck out every starter except opposing pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, and his 11 strikeouts tied the Pirates' high mark this season that Erik Bedard set May 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Juan Cruz and Jason Grilli each pitched a scoreless inning and Joel Hanrahan earned his eighth save.
Andrew McCutchen put the Pirates ahead in the first when he hit Zimmermann's 1-1 fastball into the Nationals bullpen in right for his fourth homer of the season.
McDonald struck out five of the first six batters he faced and six in a row from the first to the third innings.
The Pirates scored four runs off Zimmermann (2-4), three on home runs. He pitched six innings and allowed seven hits, walking one and striking out six. The Pirates worked his pitch count up to 56 through the first three innings but could not take advantage of baserunners in the second or third.
"That's no easy deal to go get Zimmermann," Hurdle said.
After singling in the second, Rod Barajas hit an 0-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his third home run of the season in the fourth.
The homer scored Casey McGehee, who walked, and gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead. Barajas went 3 for 4 and is 10 for 24 in his past seven games, improving his average to .214. He attributed the recent improvement to finding more consistency in his swing
"It's really kept that swing path where it needs to be," he said.
"You feel that you're going to see things that you've seen," Hurdle said about Barajas, who was hitting .133 May 5. "He hit his bottom. He's bounced back up."
McCutchen hit his second home run of the game on a hanging slider, the first pitch Zimmermann threw in the sixth, to extend the lead to 4-0.
Once Flores broke up the no-hitter, the hits came quickly.
Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi doubled, but Flores failed to score from second. It didn't matter because Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single scored two runs and cut the lead to 4-2.
Adam LaRoche tripled off the wall in left to score Zimmerman and make it a one-run game.
"Major league hitters, they took advantage of three mistakes he made," Hurdle said.
Left-hander Tony Watson relieved McDonald to face the left-handed Bryce Harper and got the rookie sensation to pop out to end the inning.
Josh Harrison doubled in the seventh, went to third when pinch-hitter Clint Barmes bunted him over and scored when Neil Walker grounded into a fielder's choice to give the Pirates a two-run edge, 5-3, that Cruz, Grilli and Hanrahan preserved.
First Published May 18, 2012 12:00 am