NEED FOR A CONSISTENT NO. 3 PITCHER TO EMERGE
James McDonald pitched six strong innings and Gaby Sanchez delivered a two-run homer to break a 1-1 tie, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates (9-8) to an impressive 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves (13-4) on Saturday night.
McDonald shined allowing 2 hits and 1 run, while striking out 9 and showed a strong battle level getting out of a tough second inning where he normally falters (since 2012 all-star break) in those type of situations. “The second was a big test for him, one he hasn’t passed often,” Hurdle said Saturday night of McDonald.
McDonald’s velocity was back in the 92 mph range, a positive sign after struggling to hit 90 in his previous start, which raised several concerns.
The flashes McDonald showed Saturday night vs the Braves is why he will remain in the starting rotation and Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke will be the first to go when Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton each join the rotation at somepoint in May.
The Pirates through 17 games are 9-8 and treading along through what pundits have called a brutal month stretch that started April 5th vs the LA Dodgers and ends May 5th vs the Washington Nationals. Through 14 games of the tough stretch, the Pirates are a combined 8-6 where they have played the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Reds, and Braves so far. The Pirates wrap up their four game series with the Braves this afternoon and look to take 3 of 4 in the series.
If there’s one thing that needs to happen for the Pirates moving forward is a “consistent” No. 3 starting pitcher to emerge behind Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett. That is really going to be the key to the Pirates season and whether they take that next step this season:
James McDonald looked like that pitcher Saturday night but you never know what you’re going to get from him on a start by start basis.
“That’s the guy we’re looking for,” Hurdle said of McDonald last night. “That’s the guy our team likes playing behind.”
Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are waiting in the wings. Pirate management strongly believes Liriano is going to be that guy, a true No. 3 behind Rodriguez and Burnett, but evaluators will say otherwise.
Liriano last night was roughed up in a Double-A rehab start for the Altoona Curve. Here’s the writeup on Liriano’s start from the Altoona Mirror: “Liriano gave up four runs on four hits and three walks in only 2 2/3 innings against Harrisburg as the Curve dropped the first game of a doubleheader, 4-1, at Metro Bank Park. Liriano, an offseason acquisition by the Pirates who’s coming back from a broken right arm, was scheduled to go four innings or 65 pitches in his second rehab start Saturday. But he struggled in the second inning and again in the third before getting lifted. Liriano gave up a leadoff walk to Justin Bloxom and a double to Sandy Leon to start the second, then Randolph Oduber drilled a three-run homer with one out for a 3-1 Senators lead.”
When it comes to Morton, the Pirates hope the 2011 Charlie Morton returns who went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA, not the 2010 Morton.
With Morton and Liriano, there is just such an unknown on what the Pirates are going to get from them, but both figure to upgrade the rotation over Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke. Whether one of them can become that true No. 3 starter the Pirates need, that remains to be seen.
Jeff Karstens dealing with a shoulder injury is still a ways away. Karstens threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Thursday and the diagnosis Karstens got from Dr. Neal Elattrache in Los Angeles is that he doesn’t need shoulder surgery, which is positive news, but Karstens is not likely to be an option in the rotation or the bullpen until June at the earliest.
The wild card in the organization is top prospect Gerrit Cole. Can Cole become that rookie who comes up in June and makes an immediate impact and helps the Pirates take that next step in the second half of the season?
Pirates Lineup vs Braves, 1:35 p.m.: Marte, LF, Snider, RF, McCutchen, CF, Jones, 1B, Walker, 2B, Alvarez, 3B, Martin, C, Barmes, SS, Sanchez, SP