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Chicago at Pittsburgh

Venue: PNC Park

The Pittsburgh Pirates got another solid pitching performance as their season-opening series against the Chicago Cubs continued, but now enter what looks to be a shakier part of their rotation.

James McDonald may be the biggest question mark of all.

McDonald looks to put a disastrous second half of 2012 behind him in Thursday's finale at PNC Park against a Cubs team that was one of many to take advantage of his post-All-Star break struggles.

McDonald seemed like he might be establishing himself as a front-line starter in the first half last season, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA that was the NL's fourth-best.

He didn't make the All-Star team, then looked nothing like a budding ace after the break. McDonald went 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA in 12 starts from July 13 until being yanked from the rotation after allowing four runs over 3 2-3 innings in a 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Sept. 14.

He finished the season with one bullpen appearance, allowing three runs without recording an out Sept. 21 at Houston.

"I saw all the bad things that went wrong and the stuff I was thinking, so I'll remember those memories and not have those fill my head when I get into a bad situation," McDonald told the Pirates' official website. "From that, I know how to get out of jams, and if I'm in a slump, I'll know how to get out of that better."

McDonald (12-8, 4.21 ERA) got into plenty of jams against the Cubs (1-1) in three second-half starts, going 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA while allowing 29 baserunners in 15 1-3 innings.

Even with his ugly two-month stretch after the break, McDonald generally pitched well at home, finishing 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA and limiting opponents to a .199 average.

Manager Clint Hurdle seems to like the right-hander's chances of bouncing back.

"We'll know more (Thursday), but I have every confidence in the world that with the lessons he's learned, he'll take the ball and be aggressive, and take us deep into the game," Hurdle said.

McDonald is the first of a trio of uncertainty in Pittsburgh's rotation - Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke will follow - but the Pirates' top two starters pitched well. A.J. Burnett struck out 10 over 5 2-3 innings of a 3-1 loss Monday, then Wandy Rodriguez tossed 6 2-3 two-hit innings in Wednesday's 3-0 victory.

The Pirates (1-1) are 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position, but that's still better than what the Cubs have done. They're 0 for 13 with eight strikeouts.

"We haven't gotten a hit yet with men in scoring position in two games, so we've got to get better at that," manager Dale Sveum said.

Travis Wood (6-13, 4.27) can empathize with McDonald's rough second half. After going 4-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 10 starts before the break, Wood went 2-10 with a 5.07 ERA the rest of the way.

The left-hander also gave up six runs, 12 hits and seven walks over 8 1-3 innings in his final two spring training starts.

Wood might not mind facing the Pirates in his season debut. He had a 2.70 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh last season, striking out 20 in 16 2-3 innings and holding hitters to a .140 average.

He allowed only Pedro Alvarez's double and three walks over six innings of a 12-2 win Sept. 7 at PNC.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Probable Starters

Travis Wood, LHP
2013 stats
0.0 Innings Pitched 0.0
0-0 Wins-Losses 0-0
--- Earned Run Average ---
0 Walks 0
0 Strikeouts 0
0.0 Pitches Per Start 0.0
Career vs. opponent
30.1 Innings Pitched 34.2
3-4 Wins-Losses 0-3
4.45 Earned Run Average 5.71

James McDonald, RHP
weather image  Sprinkles late. Mostly sunny. Refreshingly cool.
Hi TempLo TempWindHumidityPrecip %
TeamStandingsWLPct.GBL 10Strk
Chi Cubs1st NL Central10257.642-8-2 W 1
Pittsburgh3rd NL Central7881.491244-6 L 1

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Game Odds
Chi. Cubs 130 Pittsburgh -140
Chi Cubs
A. AcevedoKnee
D. BeelerElbow
A. BrooksHip
A. CrowElbow
J. HammelElbow
Z. RosscupShoulder
K. SchwarberKnee
J. SolerSide
C. VillanuevaAnkle
M. ZagunisFoot
F. CervelliHand
G. ColeElbow
B. CumptonElbow
E. DiazLeg
N. FelizArm
J. HarrisonGroin
K. HayesRibs
S. MarteBack
A. MeadowsOblique
J. MercerForearm
C. SadlerForearm
A. SchugelShoulder
C. StewartKnee
Series Game Log
Apr 3PITPIT 4-1Liriano Wainwright 
Apr 5PITPIT 6-5Lobstein Maness 
Apr 6PITPIT 5-1Nicasio Leake 
May 6STLPIT 4-2Liriano Martinez 
May 7STLSTL 6-4Rosenthal Schugel 
May 8STLPIT 10-5Cole Wacha 
Jun 10PITSTL 9-3Broxton Nicasio 
Jun 11PITSTL 5-1Martinez Liriano 
Jun 12PITSTL 8-3Leake Niese 
Jul 4STLPIT 4-2Niese Martinez 
Jul 5STLPIT 5-2Nicasio Leake 
Jul 6STLPIT 7-5Schugel Broxton 
Jul 7STLSTL 5-1Wainwright Glasnow 
Sep 5PITSTL 12-6Wainwright Kuhl 
Sep 6PITSTL 9-7Mayers Watson 
Sep 7PITPIT 4-3Williams Reyes 
Sep 30STLSTL 7-0  
Oct 1STL 1:05 PM EDT  
Oct 2STL 3:15 PM EDT