3/18/2013 6:56 P.M. ET
After rough first, McDonald finds his groove
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Had Monday's game at McKechnie Field between the Red Sox and the Pirates been a movie, the sellout crowd of 7,804 would've left the theatre thinking, "We saw this flick before."
Starter James McDonald allowed three hits and two runs in the first inning, gave up one hit the rest of his five-inning stint, and his team came back from a one-run sixth-inning deficit for a 4-3 win.
In his previous start, against Toronto at McKechnie Field on Wednesday, McDonald allowed three hits and three runs in the first inning, gave up two more hits the rest of his 5 1/3-innings stint and his team came back from a three-run sixth-inning deficit for a 5-4 win.
"Yeah, that first inning again ... then I got locked back in," said McDonald, who again quickly got his dominant groove on. "I got my composure and finished strong. I didn't let the game get away from me. I still competed with every single pitch I threw. I felt confident out there on every pitch, every moment -- that was another big thing for me."
Two starts do not a pattern make, of course. In any case, manager Clint Hurdle thinks the solution is simple; and, no, it has nothing to do with hypnotizing McDonald into thinking the first is actually already the second.
"That first hitter gets on, sometimes things just slow down [with McDonald]. He's just got to keep it moving forward," Hurdle said. "Take the cerebral part out of it, trust the catcher and just go execute pitches.
"This young man has all the weapons to pitch -- the rhythm, the pace, the timing. That all improved as the game went on."
Grilli shows no rust in return from Classic
BRADENTON, Fla. -- With 15 days and a language gap between appearances, Jason Grilli did not miss a beat -- or a chance to instill confidence in his ability to flourish as the Pirates' new closer.
Fresh from the World Baseball Classic hothouse, Grilli returned to the chill-out Grapefruit League on Monday, pitching one perfect inning in the Bucs' 4-3 comeback win over the Red Sox.
"Everything feels great," Grilli said after an inning in which no ball was hit out of the infield off him. "It was nice to be back in a game, facing hitters. That's who those guys standing there with bats were, right?"
Grilli had last pitched in a game on March 6, when he saved Italy's win over Mexico in the Classic. He had thrown only bullpen sessions since.
"Whether he was effective or ineffective, it was just good to have him back pitching," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was sharp, had a good carry to his fastball and threw a couple of breaking balls with nice bite."
Grilli's interrupted Spring Training has consisted of five innings -- even including the one inning he pitched in the Classic. He agreed with his manager's assessment that he would not need, say, 20 innings to be ready for the regular season.
"I was throwing in the upper-90s in the Classic and showed I was able to throw 30 pitches in an inning," Grilli said, alluding to closing out the win over Mexico after the bases got loaded. "That wasn't ideal, but that was two innings worth of bullets and I was strong enough to do it. Now I'm just trying to get locked in, focused on what I'm supposed to do."
Grilli likes doing it for these guys -- who apparently like to have him do it.
"Seeing these guys and hearing them say they missed me," Grilli said with a broad grin, "I guess it means I'm liked around here a little bit, so that's good."
• Monday's exhibition win was the Bucs' 10th of the spring, topping their total of last year, when they finished the preseason with a record of 9-20.
• Jeff Karstens showed he is geared up for his Grapefruit League debut -- set for Sunday, against the Orioles -- in another Minor League outing in Pirate City on Monday. The righty needed only 50 pitches to go through four scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.
Karstens reported breaking out a new mechanical wrinkle -- he worked from an old-school, over-the-head windup, which felt comfortable and obviously was effective.
• Tony Watson will make his Grapefruit League return to the mound on Wednesday against the Braves.
• Clint Barmes admitted getting a little extra charge out of his home run in Sunday's game. It came off Ivan Nova -- the Yankees right-hander who had fractured his left wrist with a pitch during Spring Training 2011, causing him to miss the season's first 25 games with the Astros.
• Of the Bucs' first 23 exhibitions, 13 have been either one-run (5-5) or two-run (1-2) games.
"When this guy's ready and evolves into the pitcher we know he can be, he'll be an elite top-of-the-rotation starter with four plus-pitches. He's working in that direction." -- Hurdle on Gerrit Cole, the Pirates' top prospect who on Monday was reassigned to Minor League camp.
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.