BRADENTON, Fla. – James McDonald is hardly concerned about the crispness of his fastball or the break on his curveball. And for that matter, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander isn’t overly focused on controlling an opponent’s running game at the moment.
All McDonald really wants out of spring training is to put the ball where it’s supposed to go following a second half last season when the only place the ball seemed to go was the outfield and beyond.
McDonald took his tentative first steps toward putting the final two months of last year behind him, pitching a pair of scoreless innings Sunday in a 9-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.
The 28-year-old walked one, struck out one and settled down in the second inning after needing 21 pitches to get through the first. He used just eight pitches to get three outs in the second, working a little faster than he’s used to in an effort to keep his defense involved.
“When you slow the pace of the game up, it slows your defense up,” McDonald said. “If you keep the game going, the pitches come a little faster, guys will be on their toes a little more and I’ll probably be a little better.”
Things certainly couldn’t be much worse than the second half of last year, when he went 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA. The precision that helped him get off to a 10-3 start evaporated as the Pirates found themselves in the clutches of an actual postseason race.
Manager Clint Hurdle believes McDonald is the efficient guy who dazzled at times in the spring and early summer, not the one who limped to the finish.
An offseason that saw McDonald welcome his first child – a baby girl – helped put things in perspective. And with catcher Russell Martin keeping him on schedule, McDonald shook off a first-inning walk to Jason Heyward – who also hit a towering foul ball that traveled well over 400 feet – to get out of trouble.
“When it was up and away or up, I was able to make an adjustment and get it back down in the zone,” McDonald said. “That’s a big thing.”
Clint Barmes went 2 for 2 with a two-run homer for the Pirates. Non-roster invitee Brad Hawpe added a two-run single.
Heyward hit a solo home run for the Braves. Julio Teheran struck out two in two innings but Atlanta fell to 0-3 in Grapefruit League play after the Pirates had their way with the Braves’ relievers.
Teheran and Sean Gilmartin – who pitched two scoreless innings of his own – are in competition for fifth starter spot. Manager Fredi Gonzalez all but called it a draw and said the team plans to send the 22-year-olds out there in tandem at least once more.
The thing that impressed Gonzalez was that neither pitcher had great command but remained effective.
“(Teheran) pitched good and his stuff wasn’t like I saw in the Dominican last time, which was good,” Gonzalez said. “He got through it. Most of the time you’ve got to go out and pitch without your good stuff.”
Atlanta OF B.J. Upton went 2 for 3 with a double. CF Jordan Schafer added two hits for the Braves. ... New Pittsburgh closer Jason Grilli, who got the win, struck out two and walked one in his first appearance of the spring. ... Atlanta plays Miami today. Kris Medlen, who will start on opening day, is slated to work two innings for the Braves. ... Newly signed Pittsburgh reliever Jose Contreras, recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, said he has no timetable for a return. The 41-year-old Contreras signed with Pittsburgh Saturday. ... Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen went hitless in two at-bats.