Pirates 9, Braves 2

James McDonald is hardly concerned about the crispness of his
fastball or the break on his curveball. And for that matter, the
Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander isn’t overly focused on
controlling an opponent’s running game at the moment.

All McDonald really wants out of spring training is to put the
ball where it’s supposed to go following a second half last season
when the only place the ball seemed to go was the outfield and
beyond.

McDonald took his tentative first steps toward putting the final
two months of last year behind him, pitching a pair of scoreless
innings Sunday in a 9-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

The 28-year-old walked one, struck out one and settled down in
the second inning after needing 21 pitches to get through the
first. He used just eight pitches to get three outs in the second,
working a little faster than he’s used to in an effort to keep his
defense involved.

”When you slow the pace of the game up, it slows your defense
up,” McDonald said. ”If you keep the game going, the pitches come
a little faster, guys will be on their toes a little more and I’ll
probably be a little better.”

Things certainly couldn’t be much worse than the second half of
last year, when he went 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA. The precision that
helped him get off to a 10-3 start evaporated as the Pirates found
themselves in the clutches of an actual postseason race.

Manager Clint Hurdle believes McDonald is the efficient guy who
dazzled at times in the spring and early summer, not the one who
limped to the finish.

An offseason that saw McDonald welcome his first child – a baby
girl – helped put things in perspective. And with catcher Russell
Martin keeping him on schedule, McDonald shook off a first-inning
walk to Jason Heyward – who also hit a towering foul ball that
traveled well over 400 feet – to get out of trouble.

”When it was up and away or up, I was able to make an
adjustment and get it back down in the zone,” McDonald said.
”That’s a big thing.”

Clint Barmes went 2 for 2 with a two-run homer for the Pirates.
Non-roster invitee Brad Hawpe added a two-run single.

Heyward hit a solo home run for the Braves. Julio Teheran struck
out two in two innings but Atlanta fell to 0-3 in Grapefruit League
play after the Pirates had their way with the Braves’
relievers.

Teheran and Sean Gilmartin – who pitched two scoreless innings
of his own – are in competition for fifth starter spot. Manager
Fredi Gonzalez all but called it a draw and said the team plans to
send the 22-year-olds out there in tandem at least once more.

The thing that impressed Gonzalez was that neither pitcher had
great command but remained effective.

”(Teheran) pitched good and his stuff wasn’t like I saw in the
Dominican last time, which was good,” Gonzalez said. ”He got
through it. Most of the time you’ve got to go out and pitch without
your good stuff.”

NOTES: Atlanta OF B.J. Upton went 2 for 3 with a double. CF
Jordan Schafer added two hits for the Braves. … New Pittsburgh
closer Jason Grilli, who got the win, struck out two and walked one
in his first appearance of the spring. … Atlanta plays Miami on
Monday. Kris Medlen, who will start on opening day, is slated to
work two innings for the Braves. … Newly signed Pittsburgh
reliever Jose Contreras, recovering from Tommy John surgery on his
right elbow, said he has no timetable for a return. The 41-year-old
Contreras signed with Pittsburgh on Saturday. … Pirates CF Andrew
McCutchen went hitless in two at-bats.