BRADENTON, Fla. — As the 2011 season wound down, Pirates management mulled pulling James McDonald out of the starting rotation to avoid overworking his arm. But instead of wearing out, McDonald kept chugging along. “We thought we might have to sit him down, back him away,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “But that never came into play. It was like he said, ‘I’ve got this. I’m going to find a way to do this.’ ”
J-Mac wound up making 31 starts and tossing 171 innings, both career highs. More importantly, McDonald showed solid signs of progress. “We saw pitch efficiency increase,” Hurdle said. “He’s aware of the importance of controlling the running game. The breaking ball can be a weapon when the fastball command is solid. The desire on his part to get deeper (into games). Reading swings on the mound. He also improved on tempo. That’s another issue that flared up from time to time, when traffic would get on base, sometimes he got very methodical and almost counter-productive. There were a lot of lessons learned and now we’re looking for continued development and sustainable success.”
»»» Andrew McCutchen, who was on campus at Pirate City a bit last week, returned to the clubhouse this morning. He’ll participate in drills today, two days before position players are required to report for the first full-squad workout.
»»» ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight Goodyear Express Tour” will stop at 11 teams’ spring training camps in Florida between now and March 6. ESPN decided to skip four Grapefruit League teams: the Orioles, Twins, Astros … and the Pirates.
»»» There were 1,002 votes cast in our last Pirates fan poll, in which we asked what it will take for the team to have more success landing free agents. The results: More wins, 582 votes (58 percent); more talent, 211 votes (21 percent); more money, 141 votes (14 percent); more charisma, 50 votes (5 percent); more fans, 18 votes (2 percent). This week’s poll asks for your reaction to the A.J. Burnett trade.