James McDonald continues to make strides in becoming a reliable starter in the Pirates' rotation. He can strengthen his resume by pitching Pittsburgh to a series victory today in the finale of a three-game set versus the Milwaukee Brewers.
Acquired from the Dodgers during the 2010 season, McDonald went 9-9 with a 4.21 earned run average in 31 starts last year, serving up 24 homers over 171 innings. However, the right-hander is already 4-2 through his first 10 starts of this season, posting a 2.20 ERA. He has allowed one run or less in six of those starts and just two home runs over 65 1/3 innings.
McDonald won for the fourth time in five decisions on Monday versus the Reds, hurling eight scoreless innings of five-hit ball, walking one and fanning five in a 4-1 win. He was just two strikeouts shy of setting a new franchise mark with seven straight outings of at least seven punchouts.
"Throwing strike one and strike two makes pitching a lot easier," McDonald said. "I just tried to go out there and be aggressive and get ahead of hitters."
The 27-year-old was drilled for five runs over four innings of a loss at Milwaukee last season and is 0-2 with a 6.06 ERA in six outings (2 starts) lifetime versus the Brewers.
Michael Fiers hopes he gets a similar chance to establish himself in the majors as he makes his second career start for Milwaukee today.
Filling in for an injured Marco Estrada, the right-handed Fiers gave up a run on five hits over seven innings at Los Angeles on Tuesday in winning his season debut, striking out three without a walk.
The Brewers needed the effort out of the 26-year-old, a 22nd-round pick in the 2009 draft who made two relief appearances last season.
"Once I got out of the seventh inning a lot of the emotions came up and I thought about what it took to get here," said Fiers.
The Pirates were in position to win just their second series in Milwaukee since the start of the 2007 season after taking Friday's opener, but the Brewers battled back for a 5-1 victory on Saturday. It was Pittsburgh's 39th setback in its past 44 trips to Miller Park.
Shaun Marcum hurled seven innings of one-run ball and got some surprise support from Brooks Conrad and Cody Ransom. Conrad snapped an 0-for-27 streak at the plate with a two-run homer and ended with three RBI, while Ransom added a two-run single to spark a lineup that was without outfielder Ryan Braun.
"It feels great to get on the board and help the team and finally do something positive," remarked Conrad. "It's never fun to go 0-for-whatever to start the season, but I just tried to stay positive."
Milwaukee won for the fifth time in six games and could be without Braun again today due to a right hip strain and aggravated sore right Achilles. Complicating matters, third baseman Aramis Ramirez exited in the seventh frame with a strained left quadriceps that could also hold him out of action today.
Pittsburgh had a two-game winning streak ended after starter Erik Bedard allowed five runs on five hits and three walks in only 3 2/3 innings of work.
"Every starting pitcher is going to have a sideways game and that was his sideways game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was his command. He was just below average across the board."
Garrett Jones accounted for the lone run with a solo homer for the Pirates.