Pirates notebook: Rodriguez to start Friday
The Pirates entered Wednesday with just three quality starts from their staff in 13 games, the woes continuing early this week as starters James McDonald and Jonathan Sanchez struggled on back-to-back nights against St. Louis.
Manager Clint Hurdle needed good news, and he received it Wednesday, as No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriguez was announced as the team's starter for Friday's game against Atlanta at PNC Park.
The left-hander threw a bullpen session prior to Wednesday's game against St. Louis and was ruled well enough to make his next start. He left the team's April 8 game in Arizona after 2 1⁄3 innings with a tweaked hamstring. In two starts he's allowed one run over nine innings.
Minor leaguer suspended
The Triple-A International League on Wednesday suspended Pirates minor leaguer Jerry Sands for one game after an incident during a game Tuesday night in Toledo, Ohio. Sands, 25, is an outfielder with the Indianapolis Indians.
“There was a verbal dispute between a fan and Jerry Sands during which Jerry briefly entered into the stands,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “The situation was quickly resolved without further incident, as the fan was ejected for his actions. We do not condone Jerry's actions and support the league's decision to suspend him for one game.”
The incident began when a fan threw peanuts at Indy infielder Brandon Inge, the local newspaper reported.
Before the fifth inning, a fan went to the railing and exchanged words with Inge, and some of Indy players also got involved. The newspaper reported that after Sands tried to get into the stands, the fan tried to dump beer on the players and was escorted out of the stadium.
Indy broadcaster Will Flemming tweeted that Inge tried to defuse the situation by handing out baseballs to a few fans.
Inge, who signed as a free agent in February, is on a minor league rehab assignment with Indy, and he was back in the lineup Wednesday. The Pirates acquired Sands on Dec. 26 from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade.
Backward, then forward, for JMac?
McDonald is pitching backward more often early this season, meaning he is throwing off-speed pitches in fastball counts and throwing those pitches more often.
In 2011, McDonald's fastball averaged 92.7 mph, according to Fangraphs.com, and he threw the pitch on 54 percent of his offerings. This season, McDonald is averaging 89.8 mph with his four-seam fastball and is throwing the pitch 35.7 percent of the time.
Is this a pitcher with a new plan? Or a pitcher losing confidence in his fastball?
“When you don't do good, it looks like they lack confidence,” Hurdle said. “When they do well, like he did a couple times last season (throwing backward), breaking balls early, fastballs up top late, then it looks like a confident guy that has command.”
Like Rodriguez, McDonald also threw prior to Wednesday's game and again claimed he is healthy.
“It went all right. It was a normal side,” McDonald said.
A homecoming of sorts
Although Matt Adams grew up in Phillipsburg, about a three-hour drive from PNC Park, the Pirates passed on him in the 2009 draft. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him in the 23rd round and made him the first Slippery Rock product to reach the major leagues.
Adams said he didn't mind being skipped over by the Pirates, even though he practically grew up in their backyard.
“It's something that could've happened but didn't, so you've just got to move on,” said Adams, who made his big league debut last season. “I'm happy here with the Cardinals.”
Adams rose rapidly through the minors, slugging 82 home runs over four seasons. He made the Cardinals' Opening Day roster and already has three homers and four multi-hit games.
Slippery Rock plans to retire Adams' uniform No. 25. “It's an honor because there's a lot of great guys who went through that program,” Adams said.
With their 23rd-round pick in 2009, the Pirates drafted outfielder Jose Hernandez, who no longer is in the organization.
Rob Biertempfel and Travis Sawchik are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Sawchik at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib. Reach Biertempfel at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.