James McDonald was simply wretched against the Cardinals Monday night, allowing eight runs (only three earned, but this wasn't some error-fest, and all the runs piled up after one tough play that Clint Barmes couldn't make) in 1.2 awful innings. McDonald's velocity is way down from last year; his breaking stuff isn't sharp at all; and he frequently throws his now-mediocre fastball right down the middle, exhibiting no command whatsoever. He allowed seven runs in the second inning, and that wasn't just bad luck. He was getting torched. At this point, I would hope the Pirates would seriously consider just removing him from the rotation for awhile. I hate to speculate about McDonald's health, but he just isn't right.
The outcome of the game was decided in its first hour, but the Pirates' offense deserves credit for crawling its way back. The Bucs got one in the first, then three more in the third, thanks to an RBI double by Andrew McCutchen and to Neil Walker's first homer of the season. After Justin Wilson allowed two runs in the third, the Pirates' bullpen put up zeroes the rest of the game, although Wilson and Bryan Morris walked five batters in 6.1 innings between them. The Pirates got two more in the eighth, thanks to a Texas-League RBI single by Michael McKenry (who entered the game as the Bucs sent Russell martin out to play third base) and another RBI base hit by Starling Marte. That left the Pirates down 10-6 with two on and one out, but Travis Snider and McCutchen grounded out harmlessly to end the threat.
Still, Marte had another multi-hit game, going 3-for-5. Neil Walker had a homer and a single. Jose Tabata went 2-for-2. After being abysmal the first week of the season, the Pirates' hitters have really come alive. The bullpen, of course, has looked very good most of the year. It's the rotation that's the problem. Francisco Liriano struck out six batters in three perfect innings tonight in Bradenton (and Jose Contreras pitched there, too). Liriano can't get to Pittsburgh soon enough.