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.

Video: Jake Arrieta hits a 465-foot home run off of Zack Greinke

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Jake Arrieta‘s bat is in midseason form already. The Cubs’ ace swatted a solo home run to center field off of Zack Greinke in Thursday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game, his first homer of the spring.

The blast went 465 feet, according to MLB.com’s Daren Willman.

Arrieta has hit two home runs in each of the past two seasons. Madison Bumgarner (eight) and Noah Syndergaard (four) are the only other pitchers to match or exceed his output in that department.

Greinke, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a miserable 2016 season. He finished with an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in 26 starts in his first year with the Diamondbacks.

Luis Valbuena to miss four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring

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Angels first baseman Luis Valbuena will miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring, Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Valbuena, 31, signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels in January and was on track to get the lion’s share of the playing time at first base. While he’s out, however, C.J. Cron will handle first base on a regular basis. When Valbeuna returns, the two will likely form a platoon.

Last year with the Astros, Valbuena hit a solid .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances.