James McDonald is growing into the Pirates’ ace at age 27

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James McDonald pitched well for the Pirates in the one-and-a-half seasons after they acquired him from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel in mid-2010, but so far this season he’s taken a major step forward at age 27 to emerge as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

McDonald threw 244 innings with a 4.15 ERA in 2010 and 2011, but after shutting out the Reds for eight innings Monday he now has a 2.20 ERA through 10 starts this year. And just as importantly his secondary numbers show a significant improvement that goes beyond ERA.

McDonald averaged 7.1 strikeouts and 4.0 walks per nine innings in 2010/2011, but this year he has 8.7 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings. He’s always had good raw stuff, but McDonald is throwing his straight fastball less and relying on his sinker/slider combination a lot more, resulting in 22 percent more missed bats and 10 percent more ground balls along with 35 percent fewer walks and a much better job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Obviously 10 starts are just 10 starts, but McDonald’s performance looks much more like legitimate improvement than some sort of early season fluke and that would be a huge development in the Pirates’ never-ending quest for a winning record.

Kris Bryant exits game with sprained right ankle

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The Cubs had a scare on Wednesday night when third baseman Kris Bryant left with an apparent ankle injury. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Nationals catcher Matt Wieters hit a pop up that veered just into foul territory near the third base bag. Bryant caught it but his momentum took him back into fair territory. In doing so, he stepped awkwardly on the third base bag and appeared to twist his ankle. Bryant needed the assistance of manager Joe Maddon and the team trainer to get off the field.

Bryant was diagnosed with a mild ankle sprain, CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports.

Bryant was 2-for-3 on the night before departing and being replaced by Jeimer Candelario. He’s now hitting .264/.395/.520 with 16 home runs and 32 RBI in 329 plate appearances. Needless to say, the 39-39 Cubs would see their playoff odds hurt immensely if Bryant were to miss a significant amount of time.

Miguel Sano will participate in the 2017 Home Run Derby

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Hector Gomez reports Twins third baseman Miguel Sano will participate in the 2017 Home Run Derby, to be held in two weeks at Marlins Park in Miami. So far, Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is the only other confirmed participant.

Sano, 24, is having an outstanding season, batting .274/.375/.548 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI in 293 plate appearances. According to MLB’s Statcast, only Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge (96.7 MPH) has a higher average exit velocity than Sano (96.4 MPH).

Brian Dozier was the last member of the Twins to participate in the Home Run Derby. In 2014 at Target Field, Dozier failed to make it into the second round after hitting only two home runs. Justin Morneau is the only Twin to have ever won the Home Run Derby, as he beat Josh Hamilton 5-3 in the finals of the 2008 Derby at Yankee Stadium — although Hamilton out-homered him in total 35 to 22.