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.