To gain more consistency, Pittsburgh Pirates starter James McDonald thinks he needs to pitch with more of an edge.
A short memory would help, too, after Saturday’s subpar showing against a minor league lineup in his last spring training tuneup.
The lanky right-hander was tagged for four runs and three hits in the first inning, and the Pirates lost to their Double-A Altoona affiliate 8-6 in their final exhibition game.
Starling Marte hit a grand slam in the second that tied the score at 4, and Russell Martin also had two hits for Pittsburgh.
McDonald left after two innings, but all the damage was done in the first when the Curve sent nine batters to the plate. He gave up three walks, a wild pitch and a two-run double just inside the right-field line by Carlos Paulino.
It wasn’t the sort of outing McDonald was looking for heading into the season after struggling in the second half of 2012.
“I think I need to keep that chip on my shoulder, to never feel relaxed, never feel at ease on the mound,” McDonald said. “Just to keep my foot on the gas really, and keep going at guys.”
The Pirates’ third starter this year after A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, McDonald began the 2012 season strong before tailing off in the second half with a 3-5 record and 7.52 ERA.
“You always want to learn from your mistakes,” Martin said about McDonald’s second half last year. “For him, the best thing you can have sometimes in baseball is a short-term memory. You’ve got to forget the bad days and really move on, so he’s got a lot of memories of him doing well.”
One of McDonald’s biggest problems Saturday was a lack of first-pitch strikes, manager Clint Hurdle said.
“He knows what he’s got. He’s got the downhill angle on a fastball. He’s got three other pitches that he can use effectively,” Hurdle said. “So today he probably got another wake-up call in what he needs to do to be successful.”
Altoona scored four runs in the fifth off minor league reliever Nathan Baker, who was on loan to the Pirates.
Marte, the Pirates’ leadoff hitter entering his first full season in the majors, finished the exhibition season having reached base safely in nine of 10 games. Marte said his focus was on plate discipline this spring and making pitchers throw strikes.
“I’m just trying to help this team as much as possible, to get on base for the guys behind me,” Marte said through teammate Pedro Alvarez, who served as a translator.