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McDonald earns first win as Bucs blank Giants

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James McDonald pitched six sharp innings Wednesday night for his first victory of the season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants 2-0.

Pirates 2, Giants 0
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

A funny thing happened Wednesday night at PNC Park in a matchup featuring starting pitchers entering play with zero wins and a combined 9.00 ERA. Runs were harder to come by than a Lightning-Pens Game 7 ticket.

James McDonald earned his first win of the 2011 season, tossing six scoreless innings and getting a boost from the bullpen to give the Pirates their first shutout of the season. Chris Snyder and Jose Tabata drove in the game's only runs as the often-dominant Madison Bumgarner took a tough-luck loss.

Coming off a three inning, eight run debacle in Florida last Thursday, McDonald didn't dominate the Giants -- he issued four walks while striking out three batters. But the 26-year-old righty, who came in to his start against San Francisco with a 10.13 ERA, took a step in the right direction.

Having surrendered five home runs in his first 18.2 innings pitched, McDonald emphasized keeping the ball in the park.

"I was focusing on keeping the ball down more in the zone and [on] location, rather than trying to throw it by them," McDonald said. "I was just trying to pitch more, change speeds and keep them off balance."

McDonald threw a fastball on 65 of his 98 pitches (66 percent), slightly less than his 69 percent total during his first four starts. He didn't get many whiffs with his heat (just two swings and misses total), but he induced seven ground balls outs on the night while putting his mid-70s curveball to good use. McDonald used his hook to record his three K's.

"He had command of his breaking ball and he was able to dump it in when he wanted to," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The biggest thing for me, regardless of the number of walks, was [his] downhill plane. He stayed focused, and he gave us everything we could have hoped for after what he has come through."

McDonald credited a between-starts bullpen session with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage for his improved mechanics and mindset.

"A minor adjustment with my mechanics, and a lot of mental [adjustments]," McDonald said. "I focused on my line of direction and my balance points."

While McDonald is relieved to get in the win column, he knows that he has room for improvement with his control.

"Leadoff walks a lot of the time score," McDonald said (he walked Aaron Rowand to start the third inning and Miguel Tejada to begin the fifth frame). "I feel like I got lucky a couple of times, and I need to cut that down."

Madison Bumgarner fell to 0-4 on the season despite throwing six strong innings of his own. The left-hander allowed five hits, punching out seven Pirates and issuing one intentional walk to Brandon Wood. Bumgarner got whiffs with his fastball (10 in 43 heaters thrown) and showed deadly precision with his slider (18 of 24 were thrown for strikes).

But the Pirates strung together three hits against Bumgarner in the top of the second. Neil Walker hit beat out an infield single on a comebacker to the mound that bounced toward the third base bag. Steve Pearce then doubled to the right-center field warning track, and Chris Snyder singled home a run on a shallow fly ball that fell just in front of Giants center fielder Rowand.

The Pirates tacked on another run in the seventh. Pedro Alvarez and Wood hit opposite-field singles off Giants reliever Dan Runzler to start the inning. Lyle Overbay, who came into the game for Pearce as part of a double-switch in the top of the seventh, then tried to lay down a bunt attempt but bounced it back to the mound. Runzler fired to third to get Alvarez.

Guillermo Mota entered the game and struck out Andrew McCutchen, but Jose Tabata cracked a 1-2 fastball down the right field line to plate Wood to give the Pirates a 2-0 advantage.

"We've got a lot of guys going through some tough sledding right now," Hurdle said. "We want them to keep going up there with bad intentions, looking to drive the ball and not just get a hit. And [Tabata] is pretty good at that. He's not just looking to fillet something in or guide something through the infield. He's taking pretty healthy hacks at it, and that ball he squared up really well."

"Two strikes, two outs, big hit for us," Hurdle said.

San Francisco threatened in the seventh and ninth innings, but the Bucs' bullpen was able to keep the defending world champs off the scoreboard.

Hurdle lifted McDonald after he gave up a leadoff single in the seventh to Cody Ross, bringing in Mike Crotta. Ross was thrown out trying to steal second base, with Walker scooping Snyder's throw out of the dirt and applying the tag.

After Crotta allowed a single to Tejada, Joe Beimel entered and got pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz to fly out. Chris Resop took over to combat Rowand, getting ahead in the count 0-2 before being called for a balk that advanced Tejada into scoring position. Resop recovered, though, blowing a 95 MPH fastball by Rowand a few pitches later to stamp out the rally.

Closer Joel Hanrahan got into trouble in the ninth, walking Pablo Sandoval to start the inning and serving up a Ross single with one out. He closed the door against Tejada, though, getting the Giants' shortstop to hit into a game-ending double play.

Bowker DFA'd to make room for Paul
The Pirates designated outfielder/first baseman John Bowker for assignment after the game, clearing roster space for outfielder Xavier Paul, who was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday.

"I felt like I did a good job coming off the bench," Bowker said. "But obviously I wasn't going to end up playing so, from here, hopefully I get picked up." Bowker, picked up from the Giants last summer in a trade for reliever Javier Lopez, has a career .237/.289/.391 line in over 600 major league plate appearances.

Up Next
Former Pirate Ryan Vogelsong (0-0, 0.00) makes his first start in over six years, taking on Jeff Karstens (2-0, 3.94 ERA) in the rubber-match.

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