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ATL@PIT: McDonald mows down nine Braves in six frames

The Pirates no doubt would like to see more of the James McDonald who showed up last Saturday. The Phillies, on the other hand, will hope the Cliff Lee who took the mound that day doesn't stay for long.

The two pitchers will start Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia close out a four-game series. The Pirates have taken two of the first three after a 5-3 victory on Wednesday night and have won five of six overall.

McDonald has been up and down over the years. Last season, he posted a 2.37 ERA over his first 17 starts and 7.08 over his final 12.

In four outings this year, he has two strong games and two tough ones. McDonald (2-2, 4.12 ERA) surrendered eight runs -- four earned -- in 1 2/3 innings against the Cardinals on April 15, but he bounced back on Saturday by holding the red-hot Braves to one run on two hits in six innings, with nine strikeouts. He credited a video montage that catcher Russell Martin showed him beforehand that included footage of McDonald's strikeouts.

"The confidence from seeing all that … I carried it into the game," McDonald said. "It was very motivational. It worked. I felt confident out there, no negative thoughts at all, not even with the bases loaded. Every pitch I threw, everything I did, I felt confident."

Lee (2-1, 2.83) was not himself on Saturday against the Cardinals. He set a season low with five innings and a season high with five runs. He also walked three, all in the third inning, after issuing one total free pass in his first three starts. Manager Charlie Manuel attributed some of that to the cold weather, but Lee wasn't so sure.

"I don't know. I'm not going to sit here and make excuses," Lee said. "Obviously, I had trouble out there commanding the ball and I walked three guys in a row in the third inning. Those guys all scored. I've got to do a better job commanding the strike zone."

Pirates: A RISP breakthrough?
• Pittsburgh entered Wednesday batting .226 with runners in scoring position, including going 0-for-13 in a 2-0 win on Tuesday. Manager Clint Hurdle said the club is going to, "continually look for answers."

There was improvement in the Pirates' latest win, as they went 4-for-11. In the eighth inning, Travis Snider singled home Jose Tabata from second to tie the game at 3, and Brandon Inge hit a bases-loaded single for the lead.

• Martin went 0-for-4 on Wednesday to snap an eight-game hitting streak, during which he hit .444 (12-for-27).

Phillies: Changes in the middle
• The heart of the Philadelphia lineup took on a new look on Wednesday, with Manuel inserting right-hander Michael Young into the No. 4 spot between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Both Utley and Howard have struggled against southpaws, so the new configuration could force opposing skippers into more difficult late-game decisions.

In the first game with the new lineup, Utley and Howard both homered off left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, while Young went 0-for-4.

• The Phillies grounded into two double plays on Wednesday, bringing their National League-leading total to 23.

Worth noting
• This will be the teams' last meeting until a three-game series in Pittsburgh from July 2-4.

• Inge is 16-for-43 (.372) with three home runs and eight RBIs against Lee, while all other Pirates combined are 11-for-63 (.175) with one homer and eight RBIs. Comments