‘James McDonald‘ (53) days until Opening Day.
After a roller coaster season in 2012, J-Mac still expects to hold a spot in the starting rotation. His first half of last year was marvelous, but he was downright awful down the stretch. After the All-Star break, McDonald posted a 7.52 ERA and .292 opponent batting average, earning himself a demotion to the bullpen.
Three questions about number 53…
1. Will he separate himself from his 2011 and 2012 campaigns? While this seems rather vague, J-Mac has actually exhibited a weird trend the past two years – 80 earned runs in 171 innings both seasons. His identical 4.21 ERA in the same amount of innings is definitely an oddity; maybe he’ll find a new set of numbers in 2013.
2. Can he locate his pitches for an entire season? A weak 4.1 BB/9 in 2011 left McDonald focusing on controlling his pitches, and he certainly displayed improvements to start last season. He averaged less than two walks in his first 15 outings of 2012, but fell apart shortly thereafter. McDonald ended up walking four or more batters on six different occasions from July through September, and surrendered a season-worst seven walks in five innings against Houston on July 29th. He definitely needs to consistently locate if he wants to see sustained success.
3. If he flops once again, how many more chances will the Pirates give him? He’s started 71 games for the Bucs over the past three years, so there is plenty of evidence laid out. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance, there’s simply too much inconsistency to trust J-Mac every fifth day. He had a great first half last year, but he needs to translate that over an entire year. If McDonald struggles as much as he did down the stretch in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see how the Pirates handle him. There are some young pitchers (Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, etc.) and swingmen (Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez, Jonathan Sanchez, etc.) that could fill his spot if necessary. Don’t forget Gerrit Cole, either.