James McDonald has been let down by his offense on more than one occasion this season. The Pittsburgh righty hopes that isn't the case tonight when the Pirates conclude a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins.
McDonald has been a bit of a pleasant surprise for the Pirates this season, going 5-3 with a 2.32 earned run average in 13 starts. He has given up just five runs total in his three losses, but the Pirates have been shut out in each.
That was the case on Friday, when the 27-year-old lost for the first time in four decisions. McDonald allowed one run on three hits and two walks over six innings, but was on the wrong end of a 2-0 decision to suffer his first loss since May 11. It also marked the eighth time in his past 11 outings he allowed just one earned run.
"I'm going to build off those last two, two-and-a-half innings or so. I finished the game pretty good," McDonald said.
McDonald, who faces the Twins for the first time, is 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in seven starts at home this season.
Getting the start for the Twins is 23-year-old Liam Hendriks, who is still in search of the first victory of his MLB career and has never before faced the Pirates.
Hendriks went 0-2 in four starts a season ago with a 6.17 ERA and is 0-3 with a 7.83 ERA through five starts in 2012. He lasted just 2 1/3 frames versus the Angels on May 2, giving up six runs and getting optioned to the minors five days later.
The 23-year-old returned to the Twins to make the start last Saturday versus the Brewers and was charged with five runs over five innings. Though just two of those runs were earned, three of the eight hits he allowed were homers.
"Hendriks was behind the count quite a bit," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire. "It was one of those games where nothing really good happened."
The Pirates stretched their winning streak to three straight games by taking Tuesday's opener, but were dealt a 2-1 setback last night.
Josh Willingham scored both of Minnesota's runs, coming home on Trevor Plouffe's single in the first before launching a go-ahead solo homer in the eighth.
"Willingham has been so good for us this year," said Gardenhire. "He's the one guy who has really been swinging all year. He can juice the baseball or he can pull it."
The Twins had lost five of six prior to the victory.
Rod Barajas drove in the lone run of the game for the Pirates, who sit 2 1/2 games behind the Reds for first place in the National League Central.
Both starters pitched well, but didn't factor into the decision. Francisco Liriano went 6 2/3 innings for the Twins and gave up just one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts while Erik Bedard had similar numbers over six innings with a run on four hits, two walks and seven strikeouts for Pittsburgh.
"It was a good step forward, but I'm disappointed we didn't win," said Bedard. "We tried our best and we'll get them tomorrow."
Twins catcher Joe Mauer did not start for a second straight game due to a bruised right quadriceps suffered on Sunday, but he was available to pinch- hit. Reliever Matt Capps, meanwhile, hasn't pitched since last Friday because of a sore right shoulder but could be available either tonight or tomorrow.
Minnesota took two of three from the Pirates the last time these teams met back in 2009.