Slump Buster Must Come Tonight For Pirates’ James McDonald

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher James McDonald was one of Major League Baseball’s best stories through June. james mcdonald

When he was acquired at the 2010 trade deadline from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for reliever Octavio Dotel, McDonald was caught in between long relief and starting pitcher status. The righty had the strikeout stuff to be a relatively nasty starter, but the stamina was perhaps never entirely there.

In 54 appearances in Los Angeles from 2008-2010, McDonald started only five games.

In Pittsburgh, though, things were different immediately. He’s never pitched a game of relief with the Pirates and has racked up 371 IP in 64 starts for an average outing of just over 5 2/3 innings.

Recently, that IP/start number has increased dramatically and McDonald has found his calling as a starting pitcher.

In fact, during the 2011 season, McDonald lasted at least seven innings in just two of 31 starts.

He did that in two of his first five starts of the 2012 season.

Through July 7, McDonald had made 17 starts and gone at least seven innings eight times. His ERA sat at a spectacular 2.37.

With 100 strikeouts in 110 IP and a 9-3 record, McDonald looked like a mid-season National League Cy Young candidate.

Then came the All-Star festivities – which McDonald was inexcusably not invited to by former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa - as well as the collapse of J-Mac.

Since his July 7 start, McDonald has gone 1-2 in 5 starts and has failed to last longer than six innings in any of them. He’s given up less than four earned runs just once since then – a three-earned no decision on August 4 – and simply hasn’t been the same J-Mac as we’d seen for the first half of the year.

After allowing seven home runs in those first 17 starts, McDonald has given up six dingers in his last five and his ERA has ballooned to 3.42.

Tonight, McDonald will have an awesome chance to turn it around and get back to his early season self as he makes a start against the lowly San Diego Padres.

At 49-64, the Padres have the fourth-worst record in Major League Baseball.

Here are some Padres rankings McDonald should be happy to hear:

- AVG: 16th NL / 27th MLB

- OBP: 11th NL / 23rd MLB

- SLG: 15th NL / 28th MLB

- HR: 14th NL / 28th MLB

No Padre has hit more than 15 home runs this season and outside of catcher Yasmani Grandal - who has just 77 at bats – no Padre is hitting above .283 on the season.

If the 27-year-old has another poor outing tonight against this offense, Pirates fans probably have something to worry about. A.J. Burnett won’t be able to carry the team into and through the postseason on his own, so J-Mac really needs to get back to his old self and tonight will be a great chance to do that.

The Padres will send Edinson Volquez (7-8, 3.73) to the mound.

Game time is 7:05 PM as the 63-48 Pirates look to keep pace with the Cincinnati Reds who currently lead the club by 2.5 games for the NL Central lead.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff for more Pittsburgh Pirates content

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