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Pirates notebook: McDonald's role might be in relief

| Sunday, June 16, 2013, 12:00 p.m.
When he comes off the disabled list, Pirates pitcher James McDonald could well find himself in the bullpen after having struggled as a starter this year.
When he comes off the disabled list, Pirates pitcher James McDonald could well find himself in the bullpen after having struggled as a starter this year.

When James McDonald returns from the disabled list, he might have a new home: the bullpen.

The right-hander has struggled in all three of his Triple-A rehab starts while he recovers from a sore shoulder. He allowed four runs (three earned) and eight hits Sunday. Pirates GM Neal Huntington acknowledged that when McDonald returns to the Pirates, he might not rejoin the rotation.

“As the clock ticks, we'll have to make the determination of where James best fits on this club,” Huntington said.

McDonald's velocity has declined this season; he averaged 89-93 mph in his previous rehab start. His fastball averaged 92 last season. Gerrit Cole's call-up and the return of Charlie Morton have given the Pirates more rotation options.

Marte returns to field

Starling Marte was not in the Pirates' starting lineup Sunday, but he entered as a defensive replacement in left field in the sixth inning. That ended speculation that he might go on the DL with an oblique injury.

Marte said prior to Sunday's game that his condition had improved each day. He was able to take some swings Sunday, and that led to his return to active duty.

Alex Presley started in left field.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin was held out of Sunday's lineup with “lower body” soreness.

Cumpton gets second start

Brandon Cumpton will make his second major league start Thursday at Cincinnati. Cumpton made his debut Saturday against the Dodgers. He filled in for A.J. Burnett, who landed on the DL with a calf strain. Cumpton allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings.

Hurdle said Jeanmar Gomez will make a second rehab start Tuesday before the Pirates make a decision on him.

“Jeanmar needs to go out and get another outing under his belt,” Hurdle said. “I don't think it makes a lot of sense to run him out in Cincinnati against that club with only (three rehab innings) underneath him.”

Who's next?

Blue-chip prospect Gregory Polanco was promoted to Double-A Altoona, and Huntington said Sunday that power-hitting prospect Stetson Allie is also close to a promotion. Allie is batting .326 and has 17 home runs with Low-A West Virginia.

“He's driving the ball to right-center field with authority,” Huntington said. "He has a short, clean swing for a big man.”

Fellow prospect Alen Hanson watched his teammate, Polanco, get promoted from Bradenton. But Hanson might not be too far away from his own promotion. After a slow start, Hanson hit .255 in April, Hanson's average is up to .287, and the shortstop won the Florida State League All-Star MVP honors Saturday night, an effort capped with a three-run homer.

“His strong side is his left side,” Huntington said, “and he faced a lot of left-handed pitching early and he had some struggles. It took him a little bit to overcome those struggles.”

Arms race

The Pirates' depth of talented right-handed pitching prospects does not end with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Nick Kingham was promoted to Double-A over the weekend and threw five scoreless innings in his debut. Huntington also said 18-year-old, 6-foot-6 right-hander Luis Heredia, a consensus top-100 prospect entering the season, is nearly ready for his debut.

“Kingham is doing pretty much everything you want him to do,” Huntington said. “He's moving his fastball around the zone. He's throwing his breaking ball for strikes. He has a good changeup. There's really no flaw in his game.”

Huntington said Heredia's minor league assignment has not been determined.

“He's so young. He's so big and physical. We are trying to build his pitches appropriately, and we're being a little conservative there,” Huntington said. “He should get out here as these short-season clubs get going.”

He said it

Huntington on the club's pitching depth: “I think if you asked anybody on the street if we would be going to our 10th or 11th major league starting pitchers, and Jeff Locke was going to be our anchor, and we're going to have won 40 games, you would have won a lot of money.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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