SARASOTA, Fla. -- The sage advice for baseball evaluators of 40 years ago was to dismiss whatever they had seen in March or September. The game's final month has gained some legitimacy over the years, especially since the advent of the Wild Card. But performances in March can be as misleading as an inverted detour arrow. James McDonald would ask that implied warning be kept in mind as you read the box score from the Pirates' 6-5, split-squad loss against the Orioles Friday.
Three innings, six hits, four runs, all earned, no walks, one strikeout and -- gulp -- three home runs. Note: Friday was the first day of March.
For a pitcher who endured a schizophrenic 2012 -- good beginning, ugly second half -- a poor performance in Spring Training can be a tad demoralizing. But McDonald also would ask that you make special note of the box score column that included the zero. Zero walks, zero as in none. Zip, zilch.
A brief review here: James McDonald threw three innings, faced 15 batters and didn't allow a walk. Another note: The Pirates pitchers walked 15 batters Thursday. So fret, if you must, about the home runs hit by Brian Roberts, leading off the first inning, Nolan Reimold wth a runner on base in the second and Wilson Betemit immediately after Reimold's homer. But at this point -- McDonald made his second start Friday -- he'll call it a push, three long balls and no walks.
We've all heard that sort of rationalization. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle signed off on this. "We wanted him to throw his fastball, we emphasized cutting down his walks. Some pitches could have been lower in the zone. But you're not upset when he does what you ask."
Home runs were not a particular problem for McDonald, even last year when the season's second half soured. He dismissed the long balls Friday, saying "[The Orioles] were very aggressive. But I had to get my work in. If that had been a regular-season game, I would have slowed down and thrown some 'chase 'em' pitches and used their aggressiveness against them.
"The idea was to get my pitches in the zone, kill the walks. I know my stuff will get better as I pitch more. So the hits I gave up, even the home runs, don't bother me."