Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle plays it coy when asked if demoted starter James McDonald will have to win a spot in the rotation in spring training next year.
"We'll have to wait and see," Hurdle said. "A lot of things can happen."
However, it seems almost certain that McDonald will be one of the five pitchers in the rotation when next season begins. The only certainties at this point are left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and right-hander A.J. Burnett, and it's extremely doubtful the Pirates will spend the money necessary to buy at least two proven starters on the free-agent market.
McDonald was one of the best pitchers in the National League in the first half of this season, going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts before the All-Star break. He was dropped from the rotation following a loss against the Cubs at Chicago on Sept. 14 and was 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA in 12 second-half starts.
McDonald has made just one relief appearance during his two-plus weeks in the bullpen and it was a disaster. He failed to retire any of the four batters he faced at Houston on Sept. 22 and was charged with three runs.
The Pirates conducted their exit interviews with players last week. Hurdle, general manager Neal Huntington and pitching coach Ray Searage stressed the power of positive thinking to McDonald.
"Once the season ends and closure of the season comes, there can actually be (the thought that), 'OK, now the clock can reset and get everything in place for '13,'" Hurdle said.