Of all the stories relating the Pittsburgh Pirates’ young season, starting pitcher James McDonald‘s may be the most encouraging.
J-Mac was teetering on the edge of becoming a reliever with the Dodgers when acquired by the Pirates. He’s always had the stuff to be one of the better pitchers in the league, but never quite had the endurance or efficiency to go deep into games. In 2011, the righty lasted more than six innings in just six of his 31 starts. His season best was a 7.1 inning outing on September 5.
This season, McDonald has already made it past the sixth inning five times in only nine starts and set a career high for pitches thrown during a 114-pitch outing in April.
What’s most encouraging, though, is that J-Mac has seen increased overall success this year to go along with his increased endurance.
The 27-year-old ranks fifth among National League pitchers with 63 strikeouts and his 2.20 ERA is good for sixth among the same field. Opponents are hitting just .196 off him and his WHIP sits under 1.00.
Those aren’t even the scariest numbers.
J-Mac’s month of May was downright filthy. In 35 innings over five starts, McDonald went 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and a 4.875 K/BB number.
Those numbers include McDonald’s start yesterday, where he gave up five hits over eight scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out five batters and walked just one en route to a 4-1 Buccos victory.
Here’s what the team did on offense:
Andrew McCutchen continues to absolutely rake the ball. His .339 batting average puts him eighth in the majors. Perhaps more impressively, McCutchen’s ten steals are tops among the MLB’s top 18 hitters, and his eight home runs place him third among the league’s top 15 batters, behind only Josh Hamilton and Paul Konerko.
Pedro Alvarez had two doubles today, bringing his season total to nine. Hopefully he’ll be heating up again like he did to open May.
The win put the Pirates just three games back of the division-leading Reds and 2.5 back of the 2nd place St. Louis Cardinals.
It also introduced the Bucs to that always-elusive .500 mark.
It’s a long season and we’re not even a third of the way through it, but things are looking brighter for Pittsburgh baseball than they have in a long time.
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