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Pirates' McDonald adds slider to mix

| Sunday, May 27, 2012, 4:22 p.m.
The Pirates waste a good starting performance by starting pitcher James McDonald against the Astros at PNC Park MAY 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

The rapid development of his slider has helped spark what is becoming a breakout season for Pirates right-hander James McDonald.

He never threw the slider in two seasons with the Dodgers, then used it just a handful of times last year with the Pirates. This season, his mix has been about 20 percent sliders. The pitch is a great complement to McDonald's deadly curveball.

“It's given him two different breaking pitches that can violate two different lanes against hitters,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The curve is more two-plane, top to bottom. The slider is (side to side). It's become a weapon.”

Catcher Rod Barajas pushed McDonald to work on the pitch during spring training.

“James is a kid with an open mind looking to get better,” Hurdle said. “When you're inconsistent and think something's missing, some guys tinker and look for the X factor. With him, it's, ‘Let me try something different. Let me see what I do if I get my hand on the side of it a little bit more and see what happens.' He's run with it.”

• Righty Jeff Karstens (shoulder inflammation) likely will throw five innings or 80 pitches in his next rehab start. On Saturday, he threw 59 pitches in 4 13 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis and allowed five runs (three earned) on two hits. “He cruised through four (innings) and there were some complications in the fifth, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Hurdle said. “He got his pitch count to where we wanted it, and he threw all his pitches. So it was a step in the right direction.”

• During his weekly radio show Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington said he might consider sending Yamaico Navarro to Indianapolis and calling up infielder Jordy Mercer. Navarro has played in only 25 games and is batting .178 with one home run and four RBI. Mercer, who is on the 40-man roster, was batting .295 with a .767 OPS at Indy.

• When Matt Hague was hit by a pitch to force in the winning run Saturday, it marked the first time that happened for the Pirates since April 15, 1997, when Tony Womack was struck in the face by Padres lefty Sterling Hitchcock.

• Former Army Ranger Sean Parnell, a Murrysville native, was a guest of Pirates owner Bob Nutting for the weekend series. Parnell, whose book, “Outlaw Platoon,” deals with his service in Afghanistan, hosted a reunion yesterday at PNC Park for about a dozen members of his platoon.

— Rob Biertempfel

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