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James McDonald on expectations, Pirates' staff

There are many questions surrounding the Pirates in 2013. Perhaps the most prevalent is whether they more closely resemble the squad that played well early the past two seasons, or the one that each time faded down the stretch.

And though the team as a whole represented the good and the bad in 2012, one pitcher had his own severe split.

Through the first half of 2012, right-hander James McDonald put up All-Star caliber numbers, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA. Then it all went "boom," as McDonald posted a 3-5 record and 7.52 mark in the second half, eventually losing his rotation spot.

Now the question is which McDonald is for real. Like many, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is awaiting the answer as McDonald prepares for his season debut Thursday against the Cubs.

"We'll know more in 24 hours, 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 Wednesday.

McDonald said he's planning to use last season's second-half struggles as a lesson to remain focused.

"I think I need to keep that chip on my shoulder, to never feel relaxed and never feel at ease on the mound," McDonald said. "Just keep my foot on the gas really and keep going at guys."

That's also what Cubs starter Travis Wood is hoping to do in his season debut. Wood was inserted into the rotation as the Cubs wait for Matt Garza and Scott Baker to heal, but has proven capable.

He had a solid 2012 campaign, making a career-high 26 starts with a 4.27 ERA. The lefty was especially impressive against the Pirates, posting a 2.70 ERA in three starts.

Cubs: Hey, I know you!
• The amount of turnover on Major League rosters each season isn't surprising, but the Cubs have a handful of players who have been teammates elsewhere. Edwin Jackson and Dioner Navarro played together with the Angels in 2005, and the next two seasons in Tampa Bay, where Shawn Camp was also a member of the Rays.

Camp seems to know everyone; he teamed with Carlos Villanueva in Toronto in 2011 and with David DeJesus in Kansas City from 2004-05.

• Lefty reliever James Russell's next appearance will be the 200th of his career.

Pirates: Cutch owns Cubs
• Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has reached base safely in 54 of his 58 career games against the Cubs, sporting a .332 average with nine home runs and 31 RBIs. Not to be outdone is second baseman Neil Walker, who is a .309 career hitter against Chicago.

• Staying with McCutchen, on Wednesday night he became the 29th Pirate to steal at least 100 bases. He is the first to reach the century mark since Jason Kendall in 2001.

Worth noting
• McDonald is winless with a 5.71 ERA in seven career games (six starts) against the Cubs, including a 7.04 mark in three starts last season.

• Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano has only two career hits against McDonald, but both have left the yard.

• Current Pirates batters are hitting .191 against Wood.

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