Outlook: McDonald can improve with consistency in '13

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."

Last word

"It's like water in a toilet. You're spinning around, spinning around -- and you wind up flushing yourself down."
-- Karstens, on the hazards of getting too much advice when things are not going well.

Martin not surprised by jeers from Jays fans

Outlook: Martin still capable of 15 homers with Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The boos from the Canadian portion of the McKechnie Field record crowd of 8,439 kept getting louder every time Russell Martin came to bat against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

By Martin's third turn, his back was to a wall of noise. But the Pirates catcher, a target of venting ever since his decision to skip playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, got the last word after drilling a sharp single through the box off right-hander Jeremy Jeffress.

"I did point to the crowd. I was like, 'That was for you guys,'" said Martin, who was not surprised by the boos.

"I was expecting it," he said, presumably having heard a lot worse in the 2 1/2 weeks since asking off Canada's provisional roster. "But I've got something in my back pocket for down the road. We'll see what happens."

Whatever that mysterious action might be, Martin seemed quite tolerant of the reaction to his decision, secure in the belief it was the right one.

While you might recall he had cited an inability to play shortstop in the Classic as the reason for his withdrawal, it must be remembered that days later he came down with the sore throwing shoulder that would've made his participation impossible, anyway.

"I don't believe [fans of Canada] truly hate me. Maybe they're just a little emotional about the fact I didn't go," Martin said. "But I had my reasons -- and they weren't what everybody expected. My decision was a good one, because it made me feel good inside.

"I'm happy. I've been working with the [Pirates] pitchers, and my preparation is where it needs to be."

Karstens sharp in first game action of spring

2013 Outlook: Karstens has value when healthy

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jeff Karstens remained on target Wednesday to merge with the Pirates' season-opening rotation, working two crisp innings in a Minor League game.

Facing Phillies Triple-A players in Pirate City, Karstens allowed one hit and struck out one while making 26 pitches, including 15 strikes. It was so efficient, Karstens then repaired to the bullpen for 15 additional pitches. And so encouraging, he could joke about it afterwards.

"I was happy to walk off the field in one piece," he said following his first game action of the spring. "It was nice to get the competitive juices flowing again."

Karstens, recovered from biceps tendinitis, threw all fastballs in the first inning. In the second, he mixed in a couple of curves and changeups.

Jim Benedict, special assistant to general manager Neal Huntington, monitored Karstens' outing and reported back to manager Clint Hurdle.

"[Karstens] was very comfortable with the outing today," Hurdle relayed. "He threw all his pitches, spun the ball, and it all went very, very well."

"You can always get better, can never be satisfied -- it's a good feeling to have, never being satisfied," Karstens said. "My fastball command wasn't all that great. The curve ... if I could box it up and take it with me, I'd put it in a bag right now."

The Pirates are putting Karstens on a regular five-day rotation, meaning his next outing, also against Minor Leaguers, will be on Monday, when his target will be three innings or 45 pitches.

Nineteen days before Opening Day, but 26 days before the Pirates will first need a fifth starter, Hurdle said, "As of right now, as we mapped it out, we do see Jeff in the rotation."

"We do have enough time for him to be sharp -- but we probably couldn't have waited much longer," the manager added.

Jones progressing, takes swings in indoor cage

Outlook: Jones will likely sit against lefties in '13

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Garrett Jones, out since feeling tightness on his left side a week ago, moved a few swings closer on Wednesday to returning to action.

Jones did some hitting in the indoor cage prior to the game against Toronto. He also played some catch and did other agility drills.

Jones is scheduled to rejoin live batting practice on Thursday.

"We'll get him involved in that, get him to move around a little more," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll see where that takes us, but he's definitely moving forward."

Jones was 3-for-14 in six games prior to his setback.

Worth noting

• There is a reason Tony Watson hasn't appeared in a game since Feb. 28, and it is not physical: He's been working on some major mechanical adjustments in side sessions, and still may be three or four days from resurfacing.

"With the body of work he's been doing, we just felt this is the time to recreate some stuff, to get him to a good place, ready to go," Hurdle said.

• Team Canada pitchers Jameson Taillon and Chris Leroux returned to camp. Taillon's stay was brief prior to his reassignment to Minor League camp, but Leroux, who threw a bullpen on Tuesday's off-day, is expected to resume his staff contention with a Friday appearance.

• Chase d'Arnaud (strained left thumb) was hazy about the results of his MRI, but it does not sound too good. d'Arnaud will be going to Cleveland on Sunday to discuss the image with a hand specialist.

• Jared Hughes had only one strikeout -- but it was worth 8,430 servings of biscuits and gravy.

In a promotion sponsored by the Bob Evans Restaurants, a fan chosen at random from the McKechnie Field record crowd of 8,439 received one order of biscuits and gravy for each of the first nine strikeouts registered by Pirates pitchers.

But if they were to get to 10 Ks, the entire house got the free treat. Hughes' ninth-inning strikeout of Mike McCoy was No. 10.