The Pirates could send James McDonald to the bullpen

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After James McDonald was knocked around for seven runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Padres last Friday, I speculated that the Pirates could move him to the bullpen while giving Kevin Correia another extended look in the starting rotation. It appears that is exactly what is being considered right now.

According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that the club will “more than likely” return to a five-man rotation next week after they return from a six-game road trip to St. Louis and San Diego. Correia was demoted to the bullpen following the acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez last month, but the Pirates recently instituted a six-man rotation while playing 20 games in the span of 20 days.

Hurdle said “there is conversation going on” about who will go to the bullpen, but with Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens and Erik Bedard pretty solid locks to remain in the rotation, the fifth spot is expected to come down to either Correia or McDonald.

McDonald posted a fantastic 2.37 ERA and 100/31 K/BB ratio over 17 starts during the first half, but his hold on a rotation spot is suddenly tenuous thanks to an ugly 8.71 ERA and 26/21 K/BB ratio over 31 innings in six starts since the All-Star break. With the Pirates in the thick of the playoff race, they can’t afford to wait much longer for him to turn it around. He’ll have one more chance to make a favorable impression this Friday against the Cardinals.

Tigers sign Josh Thole to minors deal

Josh Thole
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The Tigers signed catcher Josh Thole to a minor league deal, per an announcement from the Double-A Erie SeaWolves on Friday. Thole is expected to report to Double-A Erie, where he’ll split time with starting catcher Jake Rogers.

Thole, 31, has not appeared in a major or minor league game since 2016. He signed a minors deal with the Diamondbacks back in 2017, but was sidelined through most of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery in April. He was released by the team during spring training and failed to catch on with another major league club through the first two months of the 2018 season.

While the veteran backstop hasn’t tested his skills in pro ball for several years now, he held his own during a short-lived run with the independent New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League. Over 17 games in 2018, Thole batted .317/.425/.367 with three extra-base hits and a .791 OPS in 75 plate appearances. He’s expected to serve as catching depth within the Tigers’ organization, but may yet work his way back to the majors if he can get his average back over the Mendoza Line again — a feat he hasn’t managed since 2015.