OK, tonight's question is will we see the D-Mac that goes after hitters or the guy that nibbles, nibbles, nibbles away?
Well, he went after Skip Schumaker with all heaters and got a fly out, but then issued a five pitch walk to Randy Winn, and none of the offerings were particularly close. He got Albert Pujols first-pitch swinging, and he popped out on a heater. Matt Holliday bounced out to Pedro on a change; McCutchen used his arsenal to get him, but except for Winn, he's been around the dish, and that's a good sign.
Jake Westbrook got McCutch to pop out, Jose Tabata to ground out, and Neil Walker swinging. He took two strikes, then flailed at a change in the dirt.
D-Mac put the Cards away easily in the second, using his change and slider nicely off his 92 MPH heater. And he's throwing strikes; he whiffed a pair this frame. Westbrook is having no trouble matching him; so far, all he's given up is Dewey's soft single to right. Four of the seven Pirate hitters have watched two strikes sail past them.
The third started with the eight hitter, Bryan Anderson, lobbing a change into short left for a parachute single. Westbrook struck out trying to bunt; you don't see Card pitchers do that often. Schmaker hit a change into a force out, and Winn flew out to medium left on the same pitch.
Chris Synder got plunked to start the third; D-Mac got to first when the Cards tried to nail the catcher at second and missed. McCutch legged out an infield hit; things were beginning to look promising, considering the Pirates haven't hit a ball 90' yet this inning.
JT tried to force matters; he swung at a couple of pitches out of the zone, and bounced on back to the hill for an easy out at home. But Walker, who had 3 RBI last night, caught a 3-2 sinker and drove it to the Notch for a bases-clearing triple, just missing a grand salami.
Jones, like Tabata, had an undisciplined at-bat; he swung at a high and tight slider and then stood looking at strike three, a sinker down the middle. Pedro tapped back to the mound; the Bucs scored three and left a duck on the pond.
How did McCutch handle the lead? He K'ed Pujols on a slider, but his bread-and-butter change was lifted into the left field corner for a double by Holliday. He got Jon Jay on a fly to left center on the heater.
After being ahead of Felipe Lopez 0-2, McCutchen went back to being cute in an effort to get him chase; he ended up walking him. He regained his focus and got Pedro Feliz on a first pitch slider - and where was his head? - on a pop to Ronny Cedeno. Walking guys with a three run lead, especially when you're on a short pitch-count leash, is definitely a no-no.
The Bucs looked like they were back in business when Dewey and Cedeno started off with line singles. Snyder few out to the track in right, moving Ryan Doumit to third. D-Mac K'ed trying to bunt Cedeno to second; RC stole the base anyway, and McCutch walked to load the sacks.
JT beat out an infield hit to plate a run, but Walker was out of magic and flew out to the track in left, swinging at a first-pitch change belt-high and away. With another 15' added to his bases-juiced appearances, he'd have two grand slams.
D-Mac kept rolling, giving up only a two-out ground ball single into left. After five, he had surrendered just three hits, one walk, and struck out five. Of his 70 pitches, 48 were strikes.
The Bucs stopped here in the fifth. Jones popped out, Pedro struck out without seeing a strike, and Dewey rolled out. Patience, men; Westbrook may have thrown two or three strikes the entire inning.
McCutchen continued filling up the strike zone; he set the heart of the Redbird order down 1-2-3 in the sixth on flies. It was his last frame; he hit his pre-game limit of 80 pitches. D-Mac looked much more like the guy advertised, aggressive, throwing strikes, and getting a bushel load of fly outs.
Chris Resop took the mound in the seventh. On a 1-2 pitch to the first batter, Lopez, he broke off a knee high, inside curve, and Lopez popped it off the friendly Clemente Wall pole for a dinger. JR protested that it hit the wall, but the umps stuck by their call.
With one away, Wil Ledezema took the ball. With two away, he gave up back-to-back singles, but K'ed pinch hitter Allen Craig to keep Sir Albert waiting in the on-deck circle. Blake Hawksworth had the kind of inning pitchers dream of; three spanked at 'em balls.
It was Evan Meek time in the eighth. He got the 3-4-5 batters to all ground out; controlling the middle of the St. Louis order has been crucial tonight. Hawkworth's luck ran out when Jones took him deep into center, but his rabbit's foot worked its charm again when Pedro flied out to the track in left. He whiffed Doumit and Snyder around a Cedeno single to take it to the ninth.
Joel Hanrahan was tonight's hammer. He gave up a run out of boredom. Pedro Feliz singled, and eventually took second on "defensive indifference." He scored on an Aaron Miles' single. Miles likewise took second because the Bucs didn't care, and got to watch the third out from that perch. JH regained the team lead with his third save.
Amazing how a little pitching can turn things around, hey? While we don't suspect this is going to become a long-term trend, we're enjoying it while it lasts.
The Bucs are off tomorrow as they travel to Milwaukee.
-- Jeff Karstens was due to pitch tonight, but has "arm fatigue." Daniel McCutchen, who JR praised as a reliever, took the hill. Karstens is expected to miss just the one start. JK's dead arm isn't a surprise; he only pitched 108 innings last year, and is up to 115-2/3 in 2010 with six weeks to go in the season.
-- Ohlie was put on the 15-day disabled list today and the Bucs recalled LHP Brian Burres from Indy. Burres will be a long man tonight with D-Mac starting, and we'll see what the suits have planned down the road for Sunday's start.
-- McCutch is hitting .218 in August. We wonder if that shoulder is still giving him problems...
-- Jared Hughes (12), Justin Wilson (10) and Rudy Owens (10) are the first trio to notch double-digit wins for the Altoona Curve in one season, and that doesn't count Jeff Locke (12 wins, three with Altoona: he's tied for the organizational lead in wins and leads all Bucs farmhands with 133 strikeouts) and Bryan Morris (nine wins, six with the Curve), who joined the rotation after promotions. It's gonna be hard to keep these guys away from Indy sometime in 2011.
Morris is going to the pen to keep his innings manageable. He's worked 129-2/3 innings this year; he's never cracked 100 frames in any of his prior seasons, topping out at 96 in 2008.
-- Jose Bautista is chirping in on the Bucco financial follies. He told the Associated Press that he believes the Pirates were ready to win several seasons ago, but management refused to spend the money to upgrade a too-young pitching staff. As a result, the Pirates kept losing and a productive everyday lineup was dismantled.
-- Jim Callis of Baseball America opines that drafting 3B Anthony Rendon and eventually moving Pedro Alvarez to first base would make the most sense for the team right now, but there are a number of pitching options (Matt Purke, Gerrit Cole, Taylor Jungmann) that could tempt Pittsburgh as well, assuming they get the top pick in the 2011 draft.
He also added that he thinks Jeff Locke has a solid but not spectacular four-pitch mix, and thinks his ceiling is as a No. 3 starter, and probably fits better as a No. 4.