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Pirates notebook: J-Mac's future remains uncertain

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald talks with shortstop Clint Barmes during the third inning against the Braves on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at PNC Park.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Right-hander James McDonald (shoulder discomfort) is nearing the 30-day limit for his minor league rehab stint. His outings have ranged from awful to mediocre, and there doesn't seem to be any spot for him at the big league level.

Could McDonald work out of the bullpen when — or if — he returns? “We're going to get the first part of that answered before we get to the second,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

On Sunday, Hurdle will talk with pitching coach Ray Searage, general manager Neal Huntington and assistant GM Kyle Stark about McDonald's future.

McDonald is out of options, so he'd have to clear waivers if the Pirates opted to send him to the minors when he came off the disabled list. Or, if the club figures it's time to cut its losses, McDonald could be traded.

Morton returns to site of debut

Five years ago, Charlie Morton climbed the pitcher's mound at Angel Stadium and made his big league debut. On Sunday, the Pirates right-hander will step back on that dirt for the first time since then.

“It's interesting to come back here and look around. Things haven't changed,” Morton said. “But for me, personally, things have changed a lot since 2008.”

Morton was with the Atlanta Braves on June 14, 2008, for his MLB debut, then was traded to the Pirates a year later.

Sunday's outing will be his 92nd career start but only his third since returning from Tommy John surgery.

“Five years,” Morton mused. “Looking back, it seems like the time span should've been a lot longer. All those experiences seem like they should occupy more time, but they don't.”

Cole might get extra rest

Gerrit Cole looked fine Saturday, the day after he was struck on the left thigh by a line drive. Cole is slated to throw a bullpen session Sunday.

The Pirates will decide whether Cole will start Wednesday on his usual four days' rest or if Jeanmar Gomez will come off the DL and pitch in Seattle. If Gomez starts, Cole would pitch Friday against Milwaukee at PNC Park. (The Pirates are off Thursday.)

“One of the things we're discussing is whether to give Cole an extra day,” Hurdle said. “It's been a pretty jam-packed two weeks for him.”

Fast and slow

Friday's game pitted two pitchers whose careers seem to be headed in opposite directions and at different speeds. Cole is going up, fast. Angels righty Jered Weaver might be headed down, slowly.

Cole (3-0) has won each of his three starts in the majors. Eight of his pitches Friday were 100 mph-plus — the fastest was clocked at 101.88 mph, according to PitchFx. He and New York Mets ace Matt Harvey (who's done it once) are the only NL starters to hit triple digits this season.

“His fastball played big today,” Hurdle said.

Weaver (1-4) has gone a career-worst eight straight starts without getting past the sixth inning and has lost three in a row for the first time since May 2-18, 2011.

Weaver, 30, twice touched 90 mph with his fastball in the first inning. But by the fourth, his velocity was in the low 80s. Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer clubbed mid-80s fastballs from Weaver for home runs.

“The radar readings are what they are,” Weaver told the Los Angeles Times. “I'm not going to be throwing 93 anymore. Those days are gone. I just have to locate what I've got.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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