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James McDonald confuses Braves, us en route to 3-1 Pirates win

Justin K. Aller

So, does anybody have James McDonald figured out yet? After his disaster start a week ago, McDonald had considerably better velocity Saturday night (he was at 90-92, rather than 89-90) and much better snap to his breaking stuff, and he struck out nine batters over six innings while leading the Pirates to a 3-1 victory.

It could have gone a lot worse. The first two innings were bizarre. McDonald struck out the side in the first, then walked in a run on a four-pitch base on balls to Andrelton Simmons in the second. He hit a batter, allowed a double and walked two in that inning, but in the midst of all that, he also got all three of his outs on strikeouts, and he got all three of those whiffs on three pitches. Weird.

After the game, McDonald credited Russell Martin with encouraging him to watch video of McDonald's strikeouts. "The confidence, and just seeing all that, carried to the game," McDonald said. "I think it was a motivational thing, really."

"[McDonald is] at the point in time where he needs to take ownership of his career," Clint Hurdle said, sounding exasperated with McDonald despite the strong performance. "There doesn't need to be any more talk. He was able to follow that up with action."

That one second-inning run gave the Braves the lead for several innings as the Bucs struggled against Paul Maholm, but the Pirates finally got to him in the sixth, when they scored the first runs anyone's gotten off Maholm all year. Starling Marte walked, then came home two batters later on a double by Andrew McCutchen. Then Gaby Sanchez brought McCutchen home with a homer to center.

The Pirates' bullpen took over in the seventh and held the 3-1 lead. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon allowed only a single apiece while pitching the seventh and eighth, respectively, and Jason Grilli struck out the side to pick up the save. The Bucs moved to 9-8 on the year with the victory.

David Manel contributed to this post.