With rotation spot on the line, James McDonald beats Cardinals

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James McDonald entered Friday’s outing needing some sort of turnaround to save his rotation spot after a disastrous six-start run. He did that and more, shutting out the Cardinals for six innings and striking out seven in the Pirates’ 2-1 victory.

McDonald, an All-Star snub after going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in the first half, entered Friday’s game with a 1-2 record, an 8.71 ERA and a 2.03 WHIP in six starts since the All-Star break. Last time out, he gave up seven runs to a Padres offense that ranks among the game’s worst.

McDonald had no such problems with the Cardinals, though, allowing just two hits in his six innings. He had thrown just 87 pitches when he was removed, but his spot was due up in the bottom of the sixth and the Pirates definitely wanted to end his night on a high note after his recent struggles.

The Pirates won the game without ever driving in a run. Both of their runs scored in the fourth, the first on a wild pitch from Jake Westbrook and the second on a passed ball.

With the victory, the Pirates moved to 66-53, putting them two games ahead of the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central. If the postseason started today, they’d be the second wild card.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.