Pirates-Brewers Preview

Even while James McDonald was struggling with his control and

serving up a bevy of homers last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates

still felt he had the talent to one day be the team’s ace.

He is not only throwing like the No. 1 starter in their

rotation, but he looks like one of the best pitchers in

baseball.

Coming off a superb May, McDonald seeks to continue his stunning

turnaround for the Pirates in Sunday’s series finale with a

banged-up Milwaukee Brewers team that could again be without Ryan

Braun.

Pittsburgh (26-26) is four games out of first place in the NL

Central, and McDonald (4-2, 2.20 ERA) is a big reason the team is

still hopeful of its first winning season since 1992. He has

yielded three runs or fewer in each of his 10 starts, giving up one

or zero in four of his five May outings.

His ERA of 1.54 and WHIP of 0.89 last month each ranked second

in the majors, and he struck out 39 in 35 innings.

“I’m just along for the ride and I’m enjoying it,” manager Clint

Hurdle said after the right-hander gave up five hits and a walk

over eight shutout innings in Monday’s 4-1 win over Cincinnati.

Last season, McDonald’s 4.11 walks per nine innings ranked worst

in the majors of the 94 qualifying pitchers, while his 1.26 homers

per nine innings was the ninth-worst average.

The improvement in just one year has been astonishing. He has

surrendered just two homers over 65 1-3 innings and walked two or

fewer in each of his last six outings.

“(In the past) certain guys got up and I would think about it,

‘What if this happens? What if this happens?'” McDonald said. “Now

I just don’t care. It’s a hitter up there and I’ve got a job to do

and that’s get him out.

“I think my mental approach is different.”

The Pirates, who won Friday’s opener at Miller Park 8-2 before

losing the next day 5-1, sure hope things work out differently for

McDonald this time against Milwaukee.

In two career starts against the Brewers – both losses in

Milwaukee – McDonald has allowed 11 runs over 10 1-3 innings.

Pittsburgh has lost 37 of 41 in Wisconsin.

Braun is 3 for 9 with a double against McDonald, but it seems

the reigning NL MVP could get another day off after sitting out

Saturday because of a right Achilles injury and a strained right

hip sustained Friday.

The Brewers (24-29), who’ve won five of six, may also be without

third baseman Aramis Ramirez after he left in the seventh inning

Saturday with a left quadriceps strain.

Brooks Conrad helped carry Milwaukee’s depleted offense,

homering and driving in three runs. The home run ended an 0-for-27

slump to start the season for Conrad.

“To be a winning team guys off the bench have to step up,” he

said. “That’s why it felt so good to finally come in and get the

job done.”

Garrett Jones supplied all of Pittsburgh’s offense with his

sixth homer. He is 7 for 18 with four extra-base hits in his last

five games.

The Pirates, who had won six of seven before Saturday, hope to

have better luck offensively Sunday against Michael Fiers (1-0,

1.29), who is coming off an encouraging first major league

start.

Recalled from Triple-A Nashville to start for the injured Marco

Estrada, Fiers allowed a run and five hits while striking out three

and walking none in seven innings of Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Los

Angeles Dodgers. The 26-year-old right-hander, who made two relief

appearances last season, threw 64 of 89 pitches for strikes.

“I tried not to show too much emotion, but inside I was going

pretty crazy,” he told the Brewers’ official website.