Pirates Notebook: McDonald relishes chance
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James McDonald will make his first start for the Pirates today, five days removed from being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel trade.
He will do so with a three-pitch repertoire -- fastball up to 95 mph, curveball and changeup -- plus a slider in progress. He also will do so with a 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame that is lankier than that of most starters. Neither of those fits the prototype, but ...
"We like James' three-pitch mix with a chance to develop his slider," general manager Neal Huntington said. "His fastball has average to above-average velocity with downhill plane. His curveball has shown sharpness to the break. He has shown feel for his changeup with solid deception. He has shown the ability to throw all three pitches for strikes. The slider has flashed quality at times and, at other times, has been more of a slurve."
As for the frame ...
"There is no single body type for starting pitchers. We like James' athleticism, his height, how his arm works and his pitch repertoire to give him a chance to become a major league starting pitcher."
McDonald, a 25-year-old right-hander, has gone 26-23 with a 3.40 in 93 minor league appearances, including 79 starts. In 53 appearances with the Dodgers, only five of them starts, he went 5-6 with a 4.11 ERA, with a good strikeout rate of 63 in 76 2/3 innings, but an unsightly 40 walks and .262 opponents' batting average.
He was the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and '08, and he pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in the National League Championship series in the latter year after a September recall. He opened 2009 in the major-league rotation but an 8.78 ERA through four starts landed him in the bullpen.
"My confidence was down at the beginning of last year, but I came back and did really well," McDonald said. "Confidence is the one thing nobody can take from you."
He had a 2.71 ERA in 41 appearances the rest of the way.
So, why is it that he still prefers starting?
"Because I know I can do it," McDonald replied. "It's just a matter of getting out there, day in, day out, learning major league hitters. I looked back at film of my starts from last year, and I'd ask myself, 'Why did I throw him that pitch when I didn't have to show that to him?'
"Get back into a starting role, that's the kind of thing you think about. You think how you're going to get him out the second and third time."
First baseman Steve Pearce had the arthroscopic surgery on his left knee -- the patella tendon was repaired, and he was given additional platelet-rich plasma to facilitate healing -- by team physician Dr. Patrick DeMeo Wednesday morning at Allegheny General Hospital.
Pearce can resume baseball activity in four months. Huntington said it is not certain that Pearce will be ready for spring training, "but we remain optimistic."
• Manager John Russell reiterated that, even though Joel Hanrahan got the save Tuesday, Hanrahan and Evan Meek will share closing duties. "We think we've got two good options," Russell said.
• Left fielder Jose Tabata was given the day off, a bit of a trend for Russell when the Pirates face a tough right-hander, as they did in Johnny Cueto.
• Yhonathan Barrios, a Colombian shortstop who is among the Pirates' top infield prospects, had surgery in June to remove the hook of the hamate bone from his left hand. He probably will miss all of rookie-level Bradenton's season, but he is expected to be ready for Instructional League in the fall.
First Published August 5, 2010 12:00 am