Spring training | John McDonald enjoys debut with Pittsburgh Pirates

Defensive stalwart McDonald enjoys first day with Pirates

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 23, 2013 

BRADENTON -- John McDonald took the field Friday wearing a number usually reserved for a wide receiver.

Rather than a colorful nameplate, a piece of paper with his name in bold black and white type hung above his locker.

And more than 2,000 miles separated McDonald's former baseball home from his current one.

One thing, however, remained the same.

"It's baseball," McDonald said.

The veteran utility player made his Pittsburgh Pirates debut in front of 6,105 fans Friday at McKechnie Field, where the Pirates secured a 6-4 win over the split-squad Tampa Bay Rays.

McDonald, 38, was dealt Wednesday to the Pirates from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later and will serve as the team's backup shortstop.

Wearing No. 80, McDonald singled in a run and stole a base Friday.

"There's 30 teams. You want to be a part of one of those 30 teams, and there's so many guys vying for spots each year," said McDonald, who spent a portion of 2011 and all of '12 with Arizona. "I knew my situation out in Arizona, so it didn't surprise me. You embrace being with an organization like Pittsburgh."

The Pirates are hoping to embrace McDonald's glove. A career .239 hitter who has never logged more than 353 at-bats in a season, McDonald is known for his glove work. His .973 fielding percentage is 50th all-time among shortstops, and he's fifth among active shortstops in range factor, which measures a player's defense by dividing putouts and assists by innings.

"Shortstop is a position where you need to take care of the baseball," Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. "(Clint) Barmes, McDonald and (Jordy) Mercer allow us to feel very comfortable doing that. Josh (Harrison) and Ivan (De Jesus Jr.) have done some good things in camp, but they're nowhere near the defensive ability of John McDonald."

Not long after the move was made, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he received several phone calls from people raving about McDonald as a person and a player.

"The calls I got from people over in Arizona spoke volumes of his skill set (and) the ability to settle a clubhouse, to settle a field," Hurdle said. "He knows his role, he's been good at it for years, he's a steadying influence.

"He's a very good acquisition for us."

A minor-league coach told McDonald that shortstops who catch the ball will stay around the game

a long time. McDonald has given merit to that statement in crafting a 14-year career that began in Cleveland and included stops in Detroit and Toronto before he was traded to Arizona in August 2011.

The guy he was traded for, Kelly Johnson, started Friday's game in left field for the Rays.

"No one ever promised me the big leagues," McDonald said. "But they said as long as you play shortstop, you can stay in the game, and I've always had that in my mind. Don't ever stop.

"There's a need for guys who can play short."

McDonald, however, cuts himself some slack when it comes to his work at the plate.

"I know what people think of me as a hitter, but I've had some years where I've swung the bat well for a utility guy that gets 115 at-bats," he said. "You take any of the best players in the game and you say, 'Hey, we're going to sit you for a week. And then we're going to start you and you're going to sit for another week and we're going to start you and maybe you'll get two days a third week.'

"What would your average look like at the end of the year? How much damage are you going to do? It's not an easy thing to do, but it's so much fun to go out there and try to be good at it."

Fun was what McDonald had Friday, too, when he got to start the next chapter of his career.

"I got to put on a big-league uniform (Friday) and go out and play a game," he said, "and meet my new teammates and kind of get a feel for who's around me, how our coaches run our things. ... I had a really great first day."

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