Oh, how things can change. Until late July in 2012, James McDonald looked like a potential ace for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the first half of 2012, McDonald was 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 100 strikeouts with only 31 free passes. In 110 innings pitched, McDonald only gave up 76 hits. Somehow, he didn’t make the all-star team, but he surely deserved it. The Pirates were winning; everything was going great, led by McDonald at the front of the rotation.
Fast-forward to October, 2012. The Pirates are sitting at home watching the playoffs, despite being 16 games over .500 at one point in August. What’s one of the main reasons why they aren’t still playing baseball in October? You guessed it: McDonald fell apart.
In the second half of 2012, McDonald went 3-5 with a horrendous 7.52 ERA. The command he showed in the first half? He completely lost it, walking 38 batters in 61 innings pitched. In those 61 innings, he also allowed 71 hits. McDonald’s WHIP went from 0.973 in the first half to 1.787 in the second.
McDonald was eventually demoted to the bullpen because Pirates manager Clint Hurdle couldn’t keep sending him out as a starter to get crushed every fifth day. He made only one appearance out of the bullpen before being shut down for the remainder of the season, allowing two hits and a walk without even recording an out. All three of the batters that reached base against him scored.
The Pirates had hoped that McDonald’s second half was only a fluke. However that doesn’t appear to be the case. In only six starts so far in 2013, McDonald is 2-2 with a 5.76 ERA. In 29.2 innings, McDonald has given up 20 walks and 29 hits. He has also hit three batters and thrown two wild pitches. The guy is a mess.
The Pirates simply can’t keep going to this guy every fifth day. As soon as Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are ready to come off the disabled list, McDonald needs to be taken out of the rotation. No one really knows what to expect from Liriano and Morton; but honestly, it can’t be much worse than the train-wreck known as James McDonald.
I don’t know if they should designate him for assignment because he does have potential. His pitches are so good at times, but he just can’t command anything. He wasn’t good in the bullpen role in his one appearance last year, so that doesn’t seem to be a potential fit. All I know is that there are some tough decisions that need to be made, and they need to be made soon.