Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 11/15/14

The Pittsburgh Pirates took the field in Chicago on Saturday afternoon just one game over .500 and three games back of St. Louis for the second spot in the Wild Card race. Looking to snap their seven-game skid and turn things around, the club needed the offense to spark and the pitching to hold the club in the game, while making solid defensive plays. The Pirates were able to put it all together and end their losing streak by beating the Cubs, 7-6.

Highlighted from the seven runs on 10 hits were two home runs from Andrew McCutchen and Clint Barmes. The Pirates lead all National League teams with 94 home runs hit on the road this season. It also marks the second-highest total in team history behind the 1966 total (110).

McCutchen’s long ball came on a 3-2 pitch for his second in as many days. It marked his 28th of the season, which ties Brian Giles, who also blasted 28 in 1999, for the most in team history from a center fielder. McCutchen’s home runs are ranked third-most in the Majors among center fielders trailing only Curtis Granderson (37) and Adam Jones (29).

Barmes’ home run came in a series of seven’s. It was the shortstop’s seventh of the year, which came in the seventh inning to give the club their seventh run of the game. For Barmes, it was his first long ball since August 12. After struggling out of the chute to start the season, Barmes has since shown some improvement at the plate. He finished the month of August hitting .271 and received five walks in his last seven games (21 PA’s), having had eight walks in his first 120 games (413 PA’s).

“The first two months were hard,” Hurdle said of Barmes. “The hole was so big, that the numbers probably aren’t going to look good, or what [he] was hoping for. Even since the beginning of June, middle of June, he’s been everything we have hoped he would be. The defensive consistency speaks for itself. The walks, he’s never had a season where he’s had this few of walks before.”

“He’s capable. He’s done it before. There’s a history of a guy being a steady offensive player that can get streaky and help you…The one thing is he never took his bat out to shortstop. He’s continued to be as reliable a shortstop as there has been in the National League. There’s always room for confidence to spur and spark a player’s performance and we’re still looking at three weeks [left] in the season.”

Following the trend of McCutchen and Barmes’ two-hit performances was Starling Marte, who showed off his set of wheels by legging out an RBI triple in the gap in right center field in the fourth inning to plate a run. Marte also picked up a double in the game. He entered gone action having gone just 2-for-17 in six games since coming off disabled list (right oblique strain) on September 7th.


Is McDonald’s Spot in the Rotation Safe?

Following James McDonald’s early exit in the Pirates loss to Chicago on Friday, the question was raised to Manager Clint Hurdle on whether the club will continue to keep McDonald in the rotation. The right-hander allowed four runs over just 3.2 frames in his start, walking four batters, including three in the fourth inning before he was pulled from the game.

The numbers in the second half of the season are not pretty. McDonald posted an impressive 2.37 ERA in the first half, but has since ballooned to 4.05 on the season due to the second half struggles. McDonald has already walked more batters — 37 — since the All-Star break then he had in the entire first part of the season — 31 over 110.0 innings.

McDonald has shown some flashes of getting back on track. He tossed two shutouts against St. Louis since the All-Star break, but over his other 10 outings, McDonald has posted a 9.00 ERA. With the Pirates within playoff reach, and just 18 games remaining in the season, should the club replace McDonald in the rotation, or give him a skipped start to work on getting back on track in his side sessions?

“Sometimes, I do think you have to look at the option of taking something away from somebody. That’s always an option,” Hurdle told Cash Kruth of MLB.com. “But is it at the top of the list? I wouldn’t say that.”

“You’re looking to find a key to unlock something — and that’s the challenge you have with young players, is sometimes it takes different keys. Not one key works with everybody. We’re trying to find the keys to unlock him, and we’re running out of time.”

McDonald admitted after his outing that his confidence has taken a hit due to his current struggles. The right-hander told Kruth that at times now, things go through his head like, ”Oh, I have to do this, I have to do that.” McDonald didn’t think that way in the first half. It was “I have to, or I am going to.”

Getting McDonald back to the place where he was in the first half of the season would be huge for the club during the stretch run of the regular season. The rotation has not yet been set for the series against Milwaukee starting on Tuesday for three games. McDonald’s spot would come up on Wednesday.


Rodriguez Continues Solid Streak Since 19-Inning Game

When Wandy Rodriguez was first acquired from Houston, the left-hander didn’t immediately impress in his first handful of starts. In his Pirates debut, Rodriguez held his former club to three runs over six innings, but walked five batters in his outing. The lefty followed that up with another three run performance, then a four run until allowing five runs on 10 hits over 5.2 innings against Los Angeles.

Rodriguez admitted that those struggles were from trying to do too much, trying to prove that he was worth the price the Pirates paid. But after tossing two frames in the clubs 19-inning game in St. Louis, Rodriguez has been able to find a way back to the pitcher he was before the trade.

Rodriguez held the Cubs to just one earned run on nine hits (all singles) over six innings. The left-hander walked one and struck out four while throwing 95 pitches, 65 for strikes. Since the 19-inning relief performance, Rodriguez has posted a 1.84 ERA.


Walker, Snider Return to Lineup

Neil Walker and Travis Snider were both back in the Pirates starting lineup on Saturday. For Walker it was his first start since August 26th. The second baseman has been forced out of the lineup for the club due to low back tightness. Walker went 0-for-5 on the day.

For Snider, it was his first start since August 3rd. The outfielder had only been limited to pinch hit appearances since due to a hamstring injury that he re-aggravated. Snider went 1-for-5 with a run and an RBI.

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