James McDonald is becoming an ace. Can he keep this up?
I certainly believe he can. He has a good fastball, nice curveball, and great accuracy. I’ve a small concern he could hit the wall at the end of the season, especially if the Bucs can find their way into the post-season. He’s never come close to 200 IP in a season. I wouldn’t mind the Pirates giving Jeff Locke a start or two, as well as some other starters, to push the whole rotation back a start here and there just to string out J-Mac’s availability later in the season. As important as this season is for historical reasons, I do not want to see J-Mac overused this year and it hinder him next year.
Remember when Mark Prior had his first great season that led to him being overused and he was never the same again? How about Cole Hamels? Yes, Hamels rebounded since then, but his breakout season led to 227.1 IP. The following season, his ERA climbed 1.23 runs higher and his WHIP jumped from 1.08 to 1.29. There is no reason to allow that to happen to McDonald and it is not too early for the Buccos to make arrangements to prevent his overuse this year while protecting his availability in a theoretical post season.
I would not go to an obvious and standard six man rotation, rather I would replace guys in the rotation while having them pitch in close succession to one another or give rookies some spot starts. Say, Jeff Karstens returns and replaces Brad Lincoln in the rotation. Lincoln might pitch on a Tuesday with Karstens pitching on Wednesday, then Karstens remains in that spot in the rotation. A couple weeks later, the Pirates just want to get a look at Jeff Locke for a couple starts, so they bring him up for some spot starts. They could claim they do not want any starter to lose rhythm, but want to expose, or showcase, their AAA pitching on the Major League level. Maybe they give Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson a start or three.
This could serve the purpose of seeing what they have, the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle, preserving J-Mac later into the season and protect him for next season, and possibly provide the Bucs some trade value. Just some out-of-the-box thinking.