Along with outfield prospect Andrew Lambo, James McDonald was dealt by the Dodgers to the Pirates last Saturday just before the trading deadline for reliever Octavio Dotel. The Bucs' front office immediately gave McDonald a spot in the rotation, even though he pitched predominantly out of Joe Torre's bullpen last season and in his brief stint with the Dodgers this year.
In his Pirates' debut on Thursday night against the Rockies in Pittsburgh, McDonald was outstanding as he pitched six shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out eight.
In a rotation led by soft-tossing lefties Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, it was a nice change of pace for the Pirates to have a pitcher throwing his fastball in the mid-90s. Here is a breakdown of McDonald's velocity:
Fastball: Averaged 93 mph with a high of 96 and a low of 91.
Curveball: Averaged 77 mph with a high of 80 and a low of 74.
Changeup: Averaged 82 mph with a high of 84 and a low of 80.
McDonald was pulled after six innings and 89 pitches because he had been working in relief recently. However, McDonald was still throwing hard late in his outing as he averaged 93 mph on his fastball from his 60thpitch on. Another interesting part of McDonald's outing was that he threw seven changeups to right-handed batters and all were strikes.
McDonald struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced, including the side in the first inning. In all, four of his eight strikeouts came on changeup and two each on curveballs and fastballs.
McDonald was the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in both 2007 and 2008. However, they felt he was better suited to relieving at the major league level, which is why they were willing to include him in a trade for Dotel.
Recent history shows that the Pirates do not have a good track record with pitchers acquired from other organizations. Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen are two recent acquisitions who have failed to hold a spot in the Pirates' rotation this season.
Nevertheless, this was an outstanding start for McDonald as he made the Rockies' lineup look downright feeble. One start is a small sample size but if McDonald could string a few good outings together here at the end of the season, it would at least give the Bucs one starting pitcher they might be able to count as they move forward and try to snap a string of losing seasons that is about to reach 18.
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