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Bucs among MLB's best in pitchers' starts

| Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- The Pirates are one of just four teams in the majors this season to have five pitchers make at least 25 starts apiece.

James McDonald made his team-leading 30th start Saturday night. Charlie Morton has made 27, and Jeff Karstens has made 25. Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia, who have been shut down for the year due to injuries, have made 26 apiece.

"It's a part of the sport, and it's a part of life -- gaining experience," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Having gone through the battle and experienced what it takes, they'll probably have a better understanding of how to prepare this winter as well, knowing some of the challenges they've faced, mentally and physically. It's all part of the journey they're on."

The New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers also claim five 25-start pitchers.

Pags will play

Catcher Matt Pagnozzi, claimed off waivers last week, will make his Pirates debut in one of the games this week against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jason Jaramillo also will get a start behind the plate in the three-game series.

Ryan Doumit will start today in the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Doumit is batting .463 this month, tops in the National League.

"I think Ryan gives us the best chance to win (today)," Hurdle said. "That's the hard part, balancing the best chance to win versus what you need to do for the organization to take looks at guys. We've got to see Matt catch, and I want to see J.J. catch, as well."

McDonald matures

McDonald has been the Pirates' most reliable starter since the All-Star break.

Entering the season, there were concerns whether McDonald would have the stamina to go post to post. Going into last night's game, he had already thrown a career-high 163 innings. But as Searage pointed out, "the pitch count (total) -- and the types of pitches -- is just as important."

Early in the season, McDonald threw a lot of high-stress pitches. That means he often had to use max effort with runners in scoring position. In the second half, he's faced fewer high-leverage situations.

"His pitch efficiency has improved dramatically," Hurdle said. "Before, there would be multiple innings in a game when it would seem like things would get away from him. People say it's a lack of focus; it could be that. But sometimes it's just a young kid cutting his teeth, overthrowing, over-trying, making more of a situation than there really is, not trusting himself that he's one pitch away from getting out of an inning."

"I think he's grown up as much as anybody this year -- as far as development, attitude on the mound, understanding swings, getting a better feel for himself and his skill set."

It took McDonald 17 starts this season before he worked seven innings. His career high is eight innings, set last September against the Mets. Hurdle said he senses a hunger in McDonald to stretch his limits.

"A complete game is next," Hurdle said. "I don't want to talk about pitching into the eighth. Let's ramp it up. Next year, (a complete game) will be one of his goals. He is on board with that."

Starter or reliever?

Right-hander Bryan Morris and lefty Justin Wilson ended this season in the minors as relievers, but one of them could go back to being a starter.

Morris, 24, went 3-4 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP at Double-A Altoona. Wilson, 24, went 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP at Triple-A Indianapolis.

"Bryan probably settles in (as a reliever)," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "With Justin, there's still some discussion about where he settles. Ultimately, how he commands his fastball will determine that."

Pitchers often gain a bit of velocity when they move to the bullpen. That happened for Wilson, whose fastball was in the 94-96 mph range instead of its usual 88-94 mph. In one game, it touched 99 mph.

The Pirates don't necessarily need Wilson to blow the ball by every batter. But if he wants to get back in a starting rotation, Wilson, who averaged 4.8 walks per inning, will have to master the strike zone.

Until this year, Morris had been used exclusively as a starter. But after returning from an early season injury, he seemed more comfortable in the bullpen.

"As we looked at his effort in delivery, command of the fastball, innings workload he's had throughout his career, health history, all those types of things, we felt (bullpen) was a better spot for him," Stark said. "It's a better fit for him long-term."

Vuckovich departs

Pete Vuckovich, who worked for the Pirates as a coach and executive since 1992, was hired by the Seattle Mariners as a special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik.

Vuckovich, a Johnstown native, worked since 2001 as a special assistant to Pirates GM Neal Huntington. Before that, he was the team's minor and major league pitching coach and also was a special assistant to former GM Cam Bonifay.

Zduriencik, Mariners hired by the Mariners in 2008, is a New Castle native.

Additional Information:

Pirates game day


4:10 p.m. today, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

TV/radio: Root Sports/WPGB-FM (104.7), WCNS-AM (1480), WJPA-AM (1450), XM 189

Probable starters: Pirates RHP Brad Lincoln (1-2, 3.73) vs. Dodgers RHP Chad Billingsley (10-10, 4.30)

9:40 p.m. Monday: Pirates RHP Jeff Karstens (9-8, 3.45) vs. Diamondbacks RHP Ian Kennedy (19-4, 2.99)

9:40 p.m. Tuesday: Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (9-10, 3.81) vs. Diamondbacks RHP Daniel Hudson (16-10, 3.39)

Additional Information:

For starters

This is just the fifth season in franchise history the Pirates can boast five pitchers who each made at least 25 starts:

Year -- Pitchers (starts)

2011 -- James McDonald (30), Charlie Morton (27), Kevin Correia (26), Paul Maholm (26), Jeff Karstens (25)

1997 -- Esteban Loaiza (32), Jon Lieber (32), Jason Schmidt (32), Steve Cooke (32), Francisco Cordova (29)

1984 -- Rick Rhoden (33), Larry McWilliams (32), John Tudor (32), Jose DeLeon (28), John Candelaria (28)

1976 -- Candelaria (31), Jerry Reuss (29), Jim Rooker (29), Bruce Kison (29), Doc Medich (26)

1925 -- Lee Meadows (31), Emil Yde (28), Ray Kremer (27), Vic Aldridge (26), Johnny Morrison (26)

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