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Pirates' McDonald denies any injury issues

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 5:39 p.m.
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Pirates right-hander James McDonald allowed eight runs in 1.2 innings Monday during a loss to the Cardinals. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage talks with pitcher James McDonald during the second inning of Monday's game at PNC Park.

Struggling pitcher James McDonald insists he is healthy and, for now, the Pirates are inclined to believe him.

“I'm fine,” McDonald said Tuesday. “It's just one of those times when my body just doesn't feel too well and I have to battle through it. My body feels a little beat up. Long road trip, coming back here, I've got to get adjusted to the workload I'm putting on myself.”

The right-hander gave up eight runs in 1 23 innings Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals. McDonald's fastball sat around 90 mph, continuing a trend that began midway through 2012.

Last year, McDonald's average velocity peaked at 92.9 mph in June. By the end of the season, it was down to 91.8 mph — tailing off as he skidded through a second-half slump.

Even when he's on the mound, McDonald is aware his velocity is down.

“I'm throwing it. I can feel it,” he said. “But you don't have your good stuff every single time. You have to battle through it.”

After the game, manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington were briefed by head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk and pitching coach Ray Searage. After that, McDonald was called into the manager's office.

“Is he 100 percent on top of his game? No,” Hurdle said. “He's not feeling anything that he doesn't think is manageable. It's perplexing to some degree. We'll have the trainers and our strength and conditioning guy continue to monitor some stuff. We'll try to evaluate this day by day.”

Hurdle seemed to rule out the possibility of McDonald skipping a start.

“At this time, I don't have any information to lead me in that direction,” Hurdle said.

McDonald doesn't want to ease up on the mound or with his between-starts workouts.

“Maybe I'll turn it up, more than anything, rather than back off,” McDonald said. “Your brain will adjust to whatever you do. If I back off, my brain will adjust to that. If I turn it on more, my body will adjust to more of a workload.”

Hurdle said he believes McDonald was telling the truth about being healthy. Yet, the veteran manager knows from firsthand experience that players usually are reluctant to admit they're injured.

“A long time ago, I was a player,” Hurdle said. “If I had something that hurt me, I didn't run to a coach and tell him. I sure didn't run to the manager and tell him. You don't do that. It's not the way you're brought up; it's not the way you play. We were taught you play through things and figure it out.

“But it gets to a point where we all know our 80 percent might not be as good as somebody else's 100 percent. That's what we continue to have conversations about with them. We want to push them through some things. We don't want them, at the first little sign of something not feeling right, that they're out, they miss a start or they can't play two games. It's a fine line.”

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

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