PITTSBURGH -- It was one of the challenges that manager Clint Hurdle laid out in the early days of Spring Training, a challenge that was designed to get the attention of his starting pitchers. Hurdle wanted one starter's success to infect the rest of the rotation.
That concept of piggybacking on strong starts is something the Pirates executed beautifully in their recent series win over the Astros. Though only one of the three won, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and James McDonald strung together three quality starts. The Pirates won two of the three games, with the only loss coming because of a bullpen meltdown.
In the three games, the starters combined to throw 21 innings and allowed just two runs and 15 hits.
"They are so into watching the other guy pitch. All of them," Hurdle said. "You hear people talk about hitting being contagious all the time. I think that happens with your starting pitchers. Nobody wants to drop the baton."
With his six shutout innings on Sunday, McDonald helped lower the rotation's ERA over the past seven games to 2.79. The club is 14-9 this year when a starter goes at least six innings, and a year after accruing only 34 wins as a group, the starters have already won 13.
"It's been huge," first baseman Steve Pearce said. "With the way our pitchers have been throwing, we have a chance every single day."