PITTSBURGH — Jonathan Sanchez didn’t look like a guy ready to give the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen a needed night off after the St. Louis Cardinals touched him for two runs in the first inning on Tuesday.
Instead, Mother Nature intervened.
A massive thunderstorm hit at the end of the second inning with the Pirates leading 4-2, and the game was called after a delay of 1 hour, 24 minutes. No makeup date was immediately announced.
The deluge wiped out a promising start for Pittsburgh’s offense, but the Pirates could certainly use the break after the bullpen did yeoman’s work in relief of struggling starter James McDonald on Monday night.
The right-hander gave up eight runs — three earned — in a 10-6 loss but insisted he’s not injured.
The struggling McDonald understands his velocity is down but doesn’t believe it is injury-related. His fastball — which can top out at 94 mph — rarely ticked above 90 mph against the Cardinals. He isn’t panicking, pointing to similar issues early in the 2012 season.
“It was just one of those times you don’t feel too well,” McDonald said on Tuesday. “It’s just one of those times where your body feels beat up.”
McDonald fell to 1-2 as his ERA rose to 5.27. While there may be some mechanical issues at work he believes he’s also just trying to get into the rhythm of the season. The ball doesn’t feel quite right leaving his hand but he thinks he can still get hitters out.
“You don’t have your good stuff every single time,” he said. “You have to battle through it.”
Manager Clint Hurdle allowed McDonald’s problems are “perplexing” but he doesn’t plan on pulling McDonald from his next scheduled start on Saturday against Atlanta.
“At this time, I don’t have any information to lead me in that direction,” Hurdle said.
Tuesday night’s cancellation could give the Pirates some flexibility.
Sanchez — who came in with a 12.96 ERA — allowed two runs in the first inning but retired the side in order in the second.
Matt Holliday had an RBI single for St. Louis. Garrett Jones, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez all had RBI singles for Pittsburgh. None of it will count, however, and the game will be replayed in its entirety.
The rainout allows Pittsburgh’s depleted bullpen to get a needed day of rest. The Pirates called up reliever Vin Mazzaro from Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday for some help after long relievers Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris worked a combined 6 1-3 innings in relief of McDonald.
Hurdle hoped Sanchez — who made the team out of spring training as a non-roster invitee — would be able to work deep enough to get to the set-up guys. It hasn’t been the best start to the season for the left-hander. He was roughed up by Arizona in his previous start, allowing nine runs in 3 1-3 innings.
It looked like more of the same in the first inning Tuesday. Sanchez walked Shane Robinson on four pitches to start the game. Carlos Beltran followed with a single two pitches later and Holliday dumped Sanchez’s next offering into center, bringing home Robinson.
Allen Craig lined out to shortstop Clint Barmes, but the typically solid Barmes made his second error in as many days when his attempt to double off Beltran at second ended up in right field.
Beltran moved to third and then scored on Yadier Molina’s grounder to first.
Pittsburgh, however, had little trouble getting to St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook. The veteran righthander has allowed zero earned runs in 15 2-3 innings this season but is 1-7 with a 5.28 ERA against the Pirates during his career.
Jose Tabata singled with one out, the first of five straight singles by the Pirates. A rare gaffe by the St. Louis defense helped. With runners on first and third and one out, Russell Martin hit a chopper back to the mound and Westbrook threw to second to try to start a double play. Second baseman Matt Carpenter was late covering and was charged with an error when the ball sailed into center as Walker scored.
Both pitchers settled down in the second before the rain starting falling.
NOTES: Charlie Morton is expected to make a start at extended spring training on Thursday. Morton is recovering from Tommy John surgery. ... The series wraps up today when Pittsburgh RHP A.J. Burnett (0-2, 3.71 ERA) faces Shelby Miller (2-0, 1.46).