Before the season began, the Pirates’ biggest worry was their starting rotation. 80% of the way through the first turn, the rotation has been one of the team’s strong suits. Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and Charlie Morton have all given the Pirates a chance to win at the very least and they’re a big part of why the team is 3-1 and could be 4-0. None of those four were even expected to be the best Pirate starter in 2011; that honor goes to tonight’s starter, James McDonald.
McDonald missed most of spring training with a side injury, though, so it’s hard to know what to expect from him tonight. He had trouble with high pitch counts last year because of his tendency to work deep into counts, so I’m honestly a bit worried about what he’ll do tonight if they have him on, say, and 80-90 pitch leash. It could be a Jeff Karstens kind of night.
That said, McDonald is still easily one of the most talented pitchers on the staff; the way he works his 94 mph fastball and his big curve together can be a thing of beauty. I have a PitchFX post that I got half-done about his changeup before I went to spring training, but that’s the pitch to keep an eye on tonight. Whenever he can make hitters swing and miss at his changeup, he goes to the next level.
McDonald draws Kyle McClellan in his first start of his Major League career after three years in the Cards’ bullpen. In fact, he hasn’t regularly started since 2004. He was pretty excellent in spring training, though, giving up 12 hits and two runs in 23 spring innings spread out across five starts. The Pirates best hope may be to make him throw some pitches early and hope that he tires out as the game wears on. With Chris Carpenter looming in tomorrow’s get-away game, it’d be great to see the Bucs lock up a series win tonight and clinch a winning record for Thursday’s home opener before having to face Carp.
First pitch tonight is at 8:15.