McDonald settles in, picks up win after rough start

Righty benefits from Bucs' five-run fourth; Melancon, Grilli shut door

McDonald settles in, picks up win after rough start

PHOENIX -- Ever since James McDonald joined them in mid-2010, the Pirates have been accustomed to seeing two of him. Every fifth day, they could get either the Good McDonald or the Bad McDonald.

Tuesday night, they got both McDonalds. And, thanks to their just-about-always-good bullpen, the Pirates also got a 6-5 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field.

If two straight qualifies as a winning streak, the Bucs also have their first of 2013.

Bad McDonald turned an early 1-0 lead into a 4-1 deficit with an ugly bottom of the first. Then the good one appeared to allow only one other hit the rest of his five-inning stint, buying the Bucs time to mount their own comeback against Arizona righty Brandon McCarthy.

"The first inning wasn't very good," manager Clint Hurdle said, "but he was able to make some adjustments and fought the next four innings. So it was a nice step for him tonight, because there were games in the second half last season when, if he threw up four in the first, he wouldn't be around much longer."

The Bucs gave McDonald a fresh lead in the fourth. and, with it, he got his second wind -- and his first win.

Some old hands got involved in that five-run rally, which was quite an outburst for a team that had scored a total of 13 runs in its first seven games.

The key blows were a two-run double by Starling Marte, who has been doing it the whole young season, and a two-run single by Neil Walker, who hasn't done it since August. Walker's single snapped his 0-for-21 and accounted for his first RBIs since Aug. 24. Garrett Jones' run-scoring single applied the frosting for a 6-4 lead.

"It definitely felt good," Walker, all smiles after the game, said of the hit that put the Bucs up, 5-4. "More than anything else, because that was a big moment in the game to get the lead back -- regardless of how things have gone for me. I'm more focused on having good at-bats, and hitting barrels. I've done that, regardless of what the numbers are. But that was a big moment for the team, more than for me, because I know it's going to come around."

"He's a guy who's driven in his share of runs the last two seasons, so you know he's going to come around," Hurdle said. "But it was nice to see; it's always good to get him started, because we felt his absence in the lineup last year."

Virtually incapacitated by a bulging disk in his lower back, Walker had sat out most of the Pirates' 7-21 September.

McDonald also played a major role in that go-ahead burst, with a single that loaded the bases to set the stage. McDonald's roller up the middle foiled the Arizona infield that was on the move for the bunt-defending wheel play, and that had a ring of karma to it: earlier Tuesday night, Andrew Lambo, who had accompanied McDonald from the Dodgers in that July 31, 2010 trade, had completed the first cycle in the history of the Double-A Altoona Curve.

McDonald gutted out five innings, allowing a total of four hits and four runs, also walking four and striking out five. The first line of relief, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes, were a bit shaky, but then Mark Melancon tendered his usual perfect eighth and Jason Grilli nailed down his third save.

"We felt comfortable going to the bullpen [after McDonald's five]. Hughes wobbled a little bit," Hurdle said, "but Watson was very good and Melancon was very good again."

In five one-inning shutout outings, Melancon has allowed two hits, with five strikeouts compared to no walks. As a group, Pittsburgh relievers have worked 26 innings and given up six runs (2.08 ERA).

The game tightened up in the seventh, when Miguel Montero's bases-loaded sacrifice fly off Hughes brought the D-backs within a run.

Pittsburgh pitchers allowed more walks (seven) than hits (six), but Arizona couldn't capitalize on the generosity.

"We didn't take very good advantage of the situations we had," said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, who also decried the multiple hits allowed by McCarthy on 0-and-2 counts. "I think they had four hits 0-2; he was unable to make good pitches there. All in all, it was just a game where we didn't play very well. We didn't execute when we needed to, they did."

Reviving one of their prominent 2012 habits, the Pirates scored in the first inning for the third consecutive game. Of course, in the middle of it again was Marte, who led off with a single, stole second, motored to third on a foul fly by Andrew McCutchen and scored on Jones' smash off second baseman Aaron Hill's glove for a single.

The D-backs needed only one hit in the bottom of the inning to get over that: Montero's double scored Gerardo Parra and Hill, who had both walked. When Jason Kubel connected for a homer with two out, Arizona led, 4-1, and in two-thirds of an inning, McDonald had allowed as many hits and quadruple the runs he had permitted in seven innings of his first start, Thursday at PNC Park against the Cubs.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.