07/30/12 8:08 PM ET
Cruz throws, working his way back to Pirates
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Bucs hope McDonald can solve recent woes
CHICAGO -- As Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, there is disagreement among people both in and outside the game whether the Pirates need additions to have a legitimate shot at a division title.But everyone agrees on this: The Bucs are not going anywhere without James McDonald grabbing the reins with the caliber of pitching he consistently displayed in the season's first half. Thus, McDonald's recent struggles have gotten undue attention. McDonald will spend the next couple of days in pitching coach Ray Searage's laboratory, set to throw side sessions both Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for his next start, Saturday in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, folks are grabbing at various straws searching for a cause of his wobble. Splitting up him and A.J. Burnett in the rotation? Of course not. The duo did go 11-1 while following each other for a month (and is 3-4 since), but McDonald preceded Burnett. So unless having Burnett charting his pitches could positively impact McDonald's performance, a connection is unlikely. Letting him push through 122 pitches in a complete-game win over Minnesota on June 21? Nope. Although McDonald was a little off in his next start, the fact is two starts later he put up one of his finest efforts, seven innings of four-hit ball with no walks and 10 strikeouts against the Giants. The pressure of being given the ball for the first game coming out of the break from the All-Star Game, an event for which he was bypassed? This one would have some legs -- starting with that loss in Milwaukee, McDonald is 1-3 with an 8.71 ERA in four second-half starts -- had manager Clint Hurdle not anticipated a potential risk. "We had a conversation about that. It was private," Hurdle said. "He just wanted to help the team more. He was pretty darn good the first half; we might not have needed more. "We've got a good record in the second half. James is the one individual who has not pitched well. So we're gonna grab at something, because we've got to have a reason for that."
Josh Harrison remained on the bench Monday night, after going 2-for-2 as a late entry in Sunday's game in Houston gave him six hits in his last 13 at-bats. Neil Walker started Monday night's game one RBI shy of 200 for his career. This series in Chicago gives the Pirates one last chance -- for a spell -- to improve on their MLB-best record against sub-.500 teams: 35-14. Following these three against the Cubs, the Bucs will play 14 of their next 17 against teams with winning records.
"He'd be someone everyone would love having in this clubhouse. You see how he plays -- all out, with passion. And he produces pretty good, too."
-- Clint Barmes, on former Houston teammate Hunter Pence, who has been one of the outfield names being grinded by the Pirates' rumor mill on the approach to Tuesday afternoon's Trade Deadline.
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.