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03/13/2013 2:07 PM ET

Mixing speeds key to McDonald's solid effort

BRADENTON, Fla. -- James McDonald's first inning against the Blue Jays was rocky -- two runs, three hits. Then, it was time for a change of pace. In more ways than one.

Finding a dazzling array of pitches thrown at maddeningly different speeds, McDonald retired 14 of the last 17 men he faced to keep the Pirates in a game they would eventually win, 5-4, in the 10th inning.

From a 94-mph fastball to a 74-mph curve, McDonald befuddled Toronto's batters for 5 1/3 innings -- becoming the first Pittsburgh starter to pitch into the sixth -- and 80 pitches.

"It's fun mixing speeds," McDonald said. "It's a weapon, to be able to subtract with the breaking ball, then add, yet keeping the same feel.

"I was able to throw the fastball in at the beginning, and later in the game I felt I could go out whenever I wanted to, and that's also when I started to work in the breaking pitches. Then the fastball location got a little more crisp and I was getting ahead of guys, and that makes it easier."

"J-Mac got stronger as the game went on. I thought he had a very good outing," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were geared up to get him to 80 [pitches], and he got there."

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.