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03/08/12 7:17 PM ET

McDonald getting feeling for his changeup

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- James McDonald went in search of his good changeup Thursday, and he had a good feeling about it.

"It's a feel pitch. There is no better way to get a feel for the changeup than by continuing to throw it," McDonald said after pitching the first three innings of the Pirates' 5-4 loss to the Phillies in 10 innings.

McDonald allowed two hits to start the second -- a single by Hunter Pence and a Ty Wigginton double to score him -- but he otherwise silenced the Phillies while throwing more changeups than he would normally.

"I'd really, really like to get back to when it was a key pitch for me coming through the Minors," McDonald said. "Throwing it off the fastball can be very effective. The thing that makes the changeup effective is, it doesn't have to be a strike. As long as it starts out on the same plane, it works for you."

McDonald's misplacement of his A-change is a common complaint of young pitchers as they reach big league maturity.

"As you get more arm strength," he said, "your change changes. It isn't as sharp. You have to keep throwing it to get back the feeling."

McDonald's arm responded positively to being stretched out to three innings for the first time. The third was his smoothest frame, as he retired the side on three consecutive grounders.

"I had better rhythm. If my release point started feeling bad, I could make an immediate adjustment," McDonald said.

Marte hardly slowing down at plate for Bucs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington do their tactful best to empty the bandwagon, Starling Marte's bat keeps barking, "Climb aboard!"

Its latest bark came in the eighth inning Thursday, when Marte, a late entry into the game against the Phillies, hit a solo homer to tie the exhibition at 4.

That was the Dominican outfielder's eighth consecutive hit, further provoking fans beginning to wonder whether the 23-year-old should be considered for a roster spot, even though he has only one season of experience above Class A ball.

The Phillies had to go to extra lengths to finally stop him. Well, extra innings: in the 10th inning, Marte flied out to right off right-hander Michael Schwimer, ending his streak.

That out dropped Marte's average from .750 to .692.

"You got to use a filter," said Hurdle, a variation of his earlier observation that the hardest performances to "read a lot into are in Spring Training and in September callups."

"We're very happy with what he's done. It's exciting to watch him play," Hurdle added. "I'm very happy see him come in with the comfort zone he has at the plate and on the bases."

"He's definitely shown his talent. Spring Training is a bad time for evaluations," Huntington said. "He's hit the breaking ball and destroyed the fastball. But we're not fans of jumping guys from Double-A to the big leagues."

For his part, Marte said through interpreter first-base coach Luis Silverio, "I worked hard in the [batting] cage, and at the plate I've been looking for good pitches to hit, then putting a good swing on them."

Worth noting

• Non-roster righty Daniel Cabrera, who had been sidelined with forearm tightness since Feb. 29, threw a 15-pitch batting practice Thursday morning without issues. Barring setbacks, he will pitch an inning in Saturday's "B" game against the Twins at Pirate City.

• The Pirates' Reunion Tour continued on Thursday, when Minor League right-hander Michael Dubee traveled to Clearwater to catch up with his dad, Rich, the Phillies' pitching coach. Buccos infielder Chase d'Arnaud has already had a couple of run-ins with brother Travis, a catcher in Blue Jays camp. Infielder Jeremy Farrell got a couple of at-bats in Saturday's game against Toronto and its manager -- and his dad -- John.

• Casey McGehee dropped a single into left off David Bush on Thursday to trigger a three-run sixth and end his own 0-for-7 Grapefruit start.

• Yamaico Navarro, playing third base, executed a marvelous scoop of shortstop Anderson Hernandez's throw in the dirt to tag out Michael Martinez, carrying the potential winning run, for the first out of the ninth.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com 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.