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WSH@CIN: Zimmermann strikes out nine in win

Thursday's finale of a two-game series between the Pirates and Nationals will feature a matchup of two of the top young pitching talents in the Major Leagues.

James McDonald is just 2-2 for the Pirates, but he has pitched well, as evidenced by his 2.42 ERA, and he is coming off a sterling effort in his last start, Friday against the Astros.

McDonald gave up a second-inning run to the Astros and wound up a hard-luck loser in a 1-0 game.

The Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann is 2-3, but his ERA is even better than McDonald's, at 2.14, and he too is coming off a strong effort in his last outing, Saturday against the Reds.

Zimmermann pitched seven innings and allowed five hits and one earned run while striking out nine in a 2-1 victory.

McDonald pitching well is not a surprise. He had shown flashes of brilliance since the Pirates acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2010.

The difference between the McDonald of the past two seasons and this year is consistency. McDonald has turned in quality starts in five of his seven outings.

The Pirates' right-hander has been especially good in his last four starts, going 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA. He has struck out 33 in 29 innings, while allowing six runs on 18 hits and nine walks.

McDonald has thrown strikes on 63 percent of his 421 pitches, something that had been a problem for him in the past.

"I saw a different James McDonald when he reported to Spring Training," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He really wanted to work to get better. He asked a lot of questions in an attempt to find ways to improve."

Pirates: Meek added to bullpen
• The Pirates added Evan Meek to their bullpen Wednesday, promoting him from Triple-A Indianapolis and sending down outfielder Alex Presley. Meek gives the Pirates eight relievers in the bullpen, a move that helps a staff recovering from a short outing from Kevin Correia on Tuesday.

Meek did not fare well in his first outing since rejoining the Pirates, giving up three runs on one hit, a bases-loaded double by Adam LaRoche, after walking two and hitting a batter in the seventh inning of the Pirates' 7-4 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday.

Nationals: LaRoche stays hot
• LaRoche was 3-for-4 with four RBIs Wednesday, raising his batting average to .339. His solo homer was his first at home this season.

Worth noting
• Pittsburgh's bullpen had not allowed a run in five games (15 1/3 innings pitched) prior to Meek's lapse Wednesday. Before Wednesday, the bullpen's 2.44 ERA was the fourth lowest in the Majors, behind Texas (2.16), Baltimore (2.24) and Cincinnati (2.35).

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