Pirates remove James McDonald from the rotation

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Not so long ago James McDonald was the Pirates’ ace, taking a 9-3 record, 2.37 ERA, and 100/31 K/BB ratio in 17 starts into the All-Star break.

Since then he’s got a 7.08 ERA in 12 starts, posting an ugly 51/37 K/BB ratio in 61 innings while serving up 13 homers. And today the Pirates announced that McDonald has been removed from the rotation and replaced by rookie Kyle McPherson, who has never started a big-league game.

The last straw apparently came Friday, when McDonald failed to make it out of the fourth inning against the Cubs while allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. He had a decent outing on September 8, but also lasted just 2.2 innings against the Brewers on September 2.

McPherson has been pitching in relief since being called up on August 20, but was a full-time starter in the minors with decent strikeout numbers and excellent control. He’ll pitch Wednesday night versus the Brewers, with McDonald working out of the bullpen.

And the Pirates must win at least eight of their remaining 18 games to avoid their 20th straight losing season.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.