James McDonald gave the Pirates a shut-down performance
PNC Park had it all Tuesday night. Major collisions, curtain calls, standing ovations and even a dominant performance from one of their aces. During the 9-0 stomping of the Cardinals Tuesday night at PNC Park, the atmosphere was as electric as you would want it to be, but without the performance from James McDonald, none of it would have been possible.
Coming into this week’s important series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates starting rotation had been scuffling. Without their two aces, A.J. Burnett and McDonald performing up to standards, the rest of the staff had a pedestrian look to it.
Wandy Rodriguez has had a disappointing start to his Pirates career since coming over from the Astros, while Erik Bedard struggled so much he was outright released Tuesday morning. The only pitcher meeting or exceeding expectations in the second half of the season has been Jeff Karstens. Karstens has a 2.81 ERA over the last 30 days, a span in which he’s started five games and given up a total of 10 earned runs.
With their leader Burnett taking the mound Monday night, it seemed to be a perfect tone-setter for the “biggest series in PNC Park history.” Burnett was not terrible in his start, giving up four runs (three earned) through 5.2 innings pitched, but the Pirates needed a shut-down performance from their leader.
Entering Tuesday nights game, the Pirates were three games back from the final wild card spot, which the Cardinals held. If they were to lose, they would fall back four games and no more games against the Red Birds. But the Pirates luckily had another ace up their sleeve in James McDonald, who was more than up to the task.
In nine starts since the All-Star break, McDonald has a 6.24 ERA and has walked 30 batters in that span. Through that rough stretch, it was evident that McDonald lost confidence in his pitches, as he was not attacking with the same mentality. It also seemed as if he wasn’t his normal, happy-go-lucky self in the dugout when the camera was on him.
Something has changed between August 10th and Tuesday night’s start, as McDonald was back to being himself, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out six. McDonald commanded the strike zone with authority, as 66 of his 97 pitches went for strikes.
McDonald was not the same pitcher Tuesday night, as many have seen down the stretch in the 2012 season. McDonald was his dominant, All-Star snub-self that fans saw in the first half of the 2012 season. Tuesday night, McDonald became the Pirates true ace again, as he led this Pirates team to one of the biggest wins of the season and one of the biggest in PNC Park history.
So, what has been wrong with McDonald over his last 10 start? Some say it’s been mechanical, some say it’s been mental. Well, according to McDonald most of the struggles have been due to the mental aspect.
“I’d say 80 percent of it is mental,” – James McDonald, Post-Gazette
Manager Clint Hurdle seems to think the same thing, as he’s seen first hand how the mental aspect of the game has affected McDonald.
“James needs to continue to seek, I think, greatness and accept nothing less, That’s going to take the focus that you saw out there. It’s not going to be like that every night, but he has a switch somewhere.” – Manager Clint Hurdle, Post-Gazette
When Pittsburgh most needed a shut-down performance from a big time pitcher, they got it from McDonald. Two out of McDonald’s last three starts have been great, as he’s not allowed a run in 13 innings and struck out 13 in those two games as well. Let’s see if McDonald can continue to work his way out of his midseason slump and continue to lead the Pirates to the postseason.
This starting rotation needs one of their true aces to step up and it just might be time for McDonald to take the Pirates somewhere they have not been in quite some time, the postseason.