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.

Video: Troy Tulowitzki plays along with a photographer who thought he was a pitcher

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Thursday marked photo day for the Blue Jays. There are always some oddities, usually when the players create fun for themselves. This time, the fun happened when a photographer mistook shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a pitcher. Tulowitzki rolled with it and followed the photographer’s instructions to pose like a pitcher.

Hazel Mae has the hilarious video:

Hitters, of course, typically pose with a bat over their shoulder. Pitchers typically have their hand in their glove, sometimes leaning forward as if receiving the signs from their catcher.

Tulowitzki has exclusively played shortstop during his 12-year career in the majors, but perhaps one day he’ll step on the mound and be able to call himself a pitcher.