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.

Hideki Matsui thinks Shohei Otani should pitch and hit in MLB

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Yankees’ special advisor and former outfielder Hideki Matsui expects to help the club “convince or recruit” Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani, according to a report from MLB.com’s Deesha Thosar. The Yankees are currently viewed as the favorites to sign Otani, though there still figures to be plenty of competition for his services when he finally becomes eligible to enter Major League Baseball.

Matsui also told Thosar that while he hasn’t seen a player find success as a hybrid pitcher/slugger in the majors, he’s taken notice of Otani’s success in both areas. “He’s done well in Japan, so as a baseball fan I’m looking forward to how he’s going to do here in the Majors and in the U.S.,” Matsui said, later adding, “If [pitching and hitting is] something he wants to do, and the team wants it, then why not?”

Neither the Yankees nor any other suitor should be too concerned with Otani’s ability to translate his .332 batting average and 3.20 ERA to MLB — at least, not just yet. There are still a few roadblocks in his path to the major leagues, most notably the lack of approval from the Players Association. Per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the union doesn’t want to sign off on an agreement that would give the Nippon Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee in exchange for Otani’s services. According to the posting system rules, Otani himself would be eligible to receive no more than a $4 million signing bonus.

The good news in all of this? The union agreed to reach a final decision by Monday, November 21, so there’s still a chance Major League Baseball will see the talented two-way player bring his unique skillset to the field in 2018.