ANAHEIM -- James McDonald's career with the Pirates isn't necessarily coming to an end. But it is definitely coming to a crossroads.
McDonald's latest rehab start, Friday night for Triple-A Indianapolis, wasn't anymore reassuring than previous outings and Pirates staff will have to decided his immediate future without him being able to have another showcase turn on the mound.
The right-hander went on the disabled list with right shoulder discomfort on May 7. Subsequently, he was sent on rehab assignment on May 27, and the 30-day rehab period is up on June 25.
At that time, the Pirates will have to make a decision on his status, including whether they foresee any role for him on a staff running on all cylinders.
"That's one of the things [general manager Neal Huntington] and I will talk about [Sunday]," manager Clint Hurdle said.
In going six innings against Charlotte, McDonald threw five of 14 curves for strikes and elicited five outs on three pitches or fewer. Hurdle called the outing "inconsistent, not sharp, similar to the one before."
Prior to McDonald's penultimate rehab start last Sunday, Huntington had said, "James has to show us he can repeat his success at the Major League level. As the clock ticks, we'll have to make a determination where he fits on our club -- or does he fit? That question will have to be answered by James McDonald."
A year ago, McDonald was contending for an All-Star berth with a 6-3 record and 2.19 ERA. In a total of 21 starts since, he has an ERA of 6.28.
Bucs rookie Cole pads resume with third win
ANAHEIM -- Gerrit Cole did not hurt his emerging identity on Friday night by adding Angels ace Jered Weaver to his growing list of victims. Rather, an impressive list of feats, herewith collected, got lost in the big picture of his impressive third straight victory.
The Cole hard facts:
• Cole registered the fastest pitch (101 mph) thrown by a starter other than Detroit's Justin Verlander since 2008.
• Nine percent of Cole's 88 pitches (eight) clocked 100-plus mph -- the Majors' other starters this season have all combined for one, delivered by the Mets' Matt Harvey.
• Before Cole, only one other first-overall Draft pick had won each of his first three starts, the Orioles' Ben McDonald in 1990. With one big difference: McDonald already had 12 relief appearances under his belt.
• Cole became the second pitcher in the Pirates' 127-year history to start and win each of his first three appearances, matching the dog-eared feat of Myrl Brown in 1922 (poor Myrl, alas, never won again).
• Cole issued his first, and only, big league walk to the 72nd batter he faced, Mark Trumbo in the seventh inning. No walks in his first 18 innings is a franchise-record (post-1915) at the outset of a career.
• In another first, Cole allowed his first home run, to Albert Pujols in the same seventh inning. That was also the first homer in Cole's last seven starts, reverting to his Triple-A Indianapolis tenure and bridging a total of 44 innings.
• After having already become the first to decision Cy Young Award winners (Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke) in his first two starts, Cole got the best of Weaver, a mere runner up in 2011 with a couple of other top-five finishes in the voting.
Cole: "That's like $400 million worth of pitching. I've been really fortunate to go against that kind of competition and have the guys score runs, which allowed me to attack and not have to do anything crazy."
Mercer's emergence has Barmes in background
ANAHEIM -- The Jordy Mercer move began subtly. After occasional starts against certain left-handed pitchers, the Pirates' rookie shortstop found himself in the lineup on June 13 against tough San Francisco righty Matt Cain.
"He's handled left-handers very well, and I want to pick some spots for Jordy against right-handers as well," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle at the time, adding of incumbent Clint Barmes, "We haven't quit on anybody. There will be appropriate times for everybody to stay engaged."
However, Mercer has become a fixture, making his eighth consecutive start Saturday night. Barmes has had five at-bats and 13 innings at short since June 11.
"All I can do is stay ready. If they found someone better, I get that," Barmes said. "Everybody wants to play. I try not to read anything into what's happening."
Contemplating the change, Hurdle said he had sit-downs with both Barmes and Mercer, explaining the situation.
"We try to treat everyone the way we would like to be treated," Hurdle said Saturday. "We still have a need for Barmes. We also need him to grow Mercer."
The veteran has spent considerable time assisting the younger player, mentoring him on the defensive subtleties of the position. Their lockers are adjacent in Angel Stadium's visitors clubhouse.
Barmes' defense has always been exceptional, but he has struggled offensively in a season and a half with the Bucs. He had to finish hot last year to hit .229 and since a late-May splurge (.324 in a dozen games) has hit .128 in 13 games, dropping his overall average to .201. Mercer entered Saturday night's game batting .290 in 35 games, including .412 win men on base, the third-best mark among Major Leaguers with a minimum of 30 at-bats.
First number, last word
8: Home runs by Pedro Alvarez, including Friday night's blow against the Angels, in his last 16 Interleague games -- after he'd been kept in the yard in the first 20.
"Every day is like a day in the bank for him. He can deposit some new experience." -- Hurdle on Mercer, who has spent a lot of time on the Pirates' roster the last two seasons but on Saturday was making only his 27th big league start at shortstop.
• Cole doesn't appear to have any lingering issues from the Howie Kendrick smash off his left thigh Friday night. The ice pack was gone and he said, "I went through the workouts without problems. It's good."
• Andrew McCutchen is the recipient of the first custom pair of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, personalized in Pirates colors and "Cutch" logos. According to a company spokesman, McCutchen was chosen for the first of what will be a series for athletes "because to us he is the face of the new generation of players."
There may be one consequence: Given everything else Cole has gone through in his fast-paced 10-day introduction to the Majors, Hurdle is leaning toward giving him a couple of extra days between starts and having him pitch the June 28 homestand opener against Milwaukee, instead of Wednesday's game in Seattle. A decision on that will be made Sunday.
• The rehab assignment of Jose Tabata (left oblique strain) calls for him to get in about 25 at-bats at Triple-A before the club reevaluates his status.
• In Friday night's game, Mercer became the first Pittsburgh shortstop with an offensive line of two runs, two RBIs and a stolen base since his current batting coach, Jay Bell, who did it on July 1, 1990, in San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.