Cardinals shell McDonald in Pirates loss

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, April 15, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

It's too early in the season to panic about the Pirates' starting rotation.

And yet ...

The starters' combined 5.23 ERA is second worst in the National League. They also rank next-to-last in WHIP (1.52), wins (three), quality starts (three) and innings pitched per start (4.9).

The depth the Pirates soon expect to have — veterans Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are recovering from injuries — was considered a luxury just a few weeks ago. Now, it could be a life preserver.

Right-hander James McDonald did not make it out of the second inning Monday in a 10-6 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals.

McDonald (1-2) tossed 1 23 innings and gave up eight runs (three earned) and eight hits, walked two and threw one wild pitch.

“It was balls up in the zone,” McDonald said. “Hitters are going to hit those hard.”

McDonald's fastball sat around 90 mph, lower than in the past two years. When asked after the game if he is physically sound, McDonald hedged.

“That's not a question I'm ... I'm looking more for in-game questions,” McDonald said.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he did not want to speculate about the reason for McDonald's diminished velocity.

“I haven't seen anything glaring,” Hurdle said. “We saw what you saw, as far as the velocity, finish, command. There were some challenges, a number of them, out there for him tonight,”

After the game, Hurdle huddled in his office with head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk, pitching coach Ray Searage and general manager Neal Huntington.

The wipeout inflated McDonald's ERA to 5.27. He also lit a four-alarm fire in the bullpen. The relievers had to clean up McDonald's mess after working 4 13 innings Sunday because of a shaky start by rookie Phil Irwin.

Reliever Justin Wilson logged 95 pitches over the two days. Bryan Morris threw 45 pitches in a three-inning stint Monday.

“I'm not going to worry about it,” Hurdle said. “Guys are going to pitch. The starters understand they need to make this thing work.”

The other guys in the rotation have blemishes, too. A.J. Burnett is winless in three starts. Wandy Rodriguez has a sore hamstring. Jonathan Sanchez sports a 12.96 ERA.

McDonald was banished to the bullpen last year, when what started as a superb season soured after the All-Star break.The Pirates can't take him out of the rotation, unless they want to entrust a spot to Jeanmar Gomez, Irwin or Andy Oliver.

After falling behind, 10-1, the Pirates pecked away a bit at Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn (2-0).

Neil Walker hit his first homer, a two-run shot. Andrew McCutchen stroked an RBI double.

Pedro Alvarez went 0 for 3, dropping his average to .073. After he struck out with two runners on in the fifth, Alvarez was removed from the game.

Russell Martin replaced Alvarez by moving from catcher to third base. It was his 16th career appearance at third, and his first since June 20, 2011.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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