The St. Louis Cardinals roughed up McDonald in a 10-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, chasing him after just 1 1-3 innings. He was charged with eight runs — three earned — during the shortest start of his career.
McDonald declined to talk about how he's feeling, but the radar gun hints at trouble. The 28-year-old's fastball typically hovers in the 93-94 mph range. He didn't hit that number against the Cardinals, and St. Louis took advantage by pounding him early to end Pittsburgh's three-game winning streak.
"You make mistakes, they're going to make you pay," McDonald said. "I didn't keep my team in the game today. That's what happens when you make bad pitches, you get hit hard."
Jon Jay and Matt Holliday each had two hits and two RBIs. Allen Craig doubled and drove in three runs for the Cardinals, who took command after scoring seven runs in the second.
McDonald was met with a chorus of boos as he handed the ball to Clint Hurdle. The manager refused to speculate about McDonald's health but allowed that the right-hander is not the same pitcher who was one of the National League's best starters in the first half of the 2012 season.
"There wasn't anything real crisp," Hurdle said. "He just couldn't get the ball where he wanted it, couldn't repeat it and it was hard. ... Too many pitches up and over the plate to a good-hitting team."
Starling Marte had three hits and Neil Walker homered for the Pirates, who couldn't quite duplicate their stirring comeback win over Cincinnati on Sunday. Pittsburgh spotted the Reds a 5-0 lead before rallying for a 10-7 triumph.
The Pirates pulled within four in the eighth and had two runners on, but Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen both grounded out to end the threat.
"We had the tying run on deck after being down 10-1," Hurdle said. "I like the way we're playing. The hiccups we've had off the mound have been challenging but we've been able to handle them so far."
Lance Lynn (2-0) labored through five innings to get the win. Lynn allowed four runs, walking three and striking out four.
McDonald began the season hoping to recapture the form he showed in the first half of 2012, when he nearly made the All-Star team. He pitched well in his first start and then overcame a shaky first inning in Arizona last week — when he allowed four runs before getting three outs — to pick up the win.
He again struggled to get out of the first inning, allowing St. Louis to grab an early 1-0 lead, an advantage that could have been much larger if the Cardinals hadn't run themselves into unnecessary trouble.
The Pirates bounced back to tie it in the bottom half on a run-scoring single by Garrett Jones, only this time McDonald was unable to collect himself on a night when his velocity and command abandoned him.
Pete Kozma led off the second with a ground-rule double, and things kept getting worse for the Pirates. Jay smacked a two-run double and a rare throwing error by shortstop Clint Barmes allowed the Cardinals to extend the inning. St. Louis didn't let the miscue go to waste, adding five more runs — including a two-run double by Craig — before Hurdle came out to get McDonald.
"I think we really feed off each other," Craig said. "When one guy has a good at-bat and hits a ball hard I think the next guy, it boosts his confidence and it goes from there. "
Lynn didn't exactly sparkle. Staked to a 10-1 lead after a two-run double by Holliday off reliever Bryan Morris in the third, Lynn seemed uncomfortable. Walker hit his first homer of the season to help get Pittsburgh within six runs, and the Pirates put two runners on in both the fourth and the fifth but couldn't chase Lynn.
The right-hander needed 99 pitches — and a pep talk in the fifth from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist — to get his way through 15 outs. It was a rare so-so performance by a St. Louis starter. The Cardinals began the three-game series with the best ERA by their starters (1.99) in baseball. St. Louis tossed 39 consecutive shutout innings last week before losing to Milwaukee in 10 innings on Sunday to snap a four-game winning streak.
Despite some late wobbles by the bullpen, the first-place Cardinals managed to avoid their second losing skid of the season.
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Francisco Liriano pitched three shutout innings for Class-A Bradenton, striking out six. Liriano is recovering from a broken right arm. ... St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said the team will stick with a closer-by-committee approach as it searches for someone to take over for injured Jason Motte. ... The Pirates moved catcher Russell Martin to third base in the fifth inning, his first appearance at third since June 2011. ... Jake Westbrook (1-1, 0.00 ERA) starts for St. Louis against Jonathan Sanchez (0-2, 12.96) on Tuesday night.