Bucs helping J-Mac maintain realistic expectations

Bucs helping J-Mac maintain realistic expectations

CINCINNATI -- Since James McDonald's latest misfire, the Pirates' staff has worked hard to get him to lower his sights. Manager Clint Hurdle thinks McDonald felt the need to raise his game even higher after a fabulous first half. Pitching coach Ray Searage oversaw a couple of bullpen sessions in Chicago meant to yank the righty back to basics.

How the process went will get a stiff, crucial test Saturday. McDonald is due to face the Reds in the middle game of this series between the NL Central racers.

"He's making progress," Hurdle said Friday afternoon. "The biggest thing we've been able to plow through is just getting him to understand that we don't need more. As he met the targets he set for himself in the first half, he felt like it was time for him to add on, just because of the way the first half went."

McDonald entered the All-Star break with a record of 9-3 and a 2.37 ERA. In four starts since, he has an ERA of 8.71 and has averaged five innings.

If the staff feels McDonald has been trying to do too much, here is a thought: Perhaps he had put more pressure on himself because he was pitching between Kevin Correia and Erik Bedard, two starters who both typically put the bullpen to work; McDonald may have felt the need to be a bigger man between them.

Saturday, he shouldn't have that feeling. He'll be working between Wandy Rodriguez, who went at least six innings in 16 of his first 22 starts, and A.J. Burnett.

"He just needs to get back to executing one pitch at a time," Hurdle said of McDonald. "That's what worked for him early, and what will work for him now. He just needs to get that mindset back in place."