ST. LOUIS -- His shoulder finally healthy, but with nowhere to pitch, right-hander James McDonald found himself designated for assignment Saturday.
McDonald, who has not pitched in the majors since April 30 and was on his second minor league rehabilitation assignment, was on the 60-day disabled list because of shoulder pain. The move did not affect the Pirates' 40-man roster, nor did it remove an option for an injury replacement to the postseason roster. The Pirates have several pitchers they prefer to McDonald, so they decided to let him go.
"Ultimately the timing was based on allowing James an opportunity to pursue a chance with somebody else," general manager Neal Huntington said.
McDonald made $3,025,000 in 2013, his first season of arbitration eligibility. He would have been due for a raise next season. The Pirates have several arbitration-eligible players, including Mark Melancon, Neil Walker and Charlie Morton, whose salaries will increase for 2014.
"As we looked forward to this offseason -- the service time, his arbitration value, our willingness to pay him that -- we did not see that coming to fruition at those dollars," Huntington said.
McDonald was never the same after his excellent first half of the 2012 season. The Pirates eventually relegated him to the bullpen in the final month of 2012. This year, he lost velocity and struggled in six starts, posting a 5.76 ERA, before shoulder pain forced him to the disabled list.
"I think he tried hard, I think he tried to figure it out," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think coaches tried to coach. At the end of the day, sometimes things just don't work and it just didn't come back together or re-ignite for James."
The Pirates have 10 days to trade or release McDonald. If he clears waivers, the Pirates can send him to the minors if they choose.
The Pirates activated outfielder Starling Marte from the 15-day disabled list and recalled right-hander Brandon Cumpton from Class AAA Indianapolis.
Marte had not played since Aug. 18 because of a contusion and sprained ligament in his right hand. He just started swinging with two hands and will serve as a pinch-runner for now. Asked how his hand felt swinging two-handed, he said, "Brutal."
Cumpton started four games for the Pirates this season and allowed seven earned runs in 222/3 innings. He will augment a bullpen that sent five relievers to the mound Friday night after A.J. Burnett completed only three innings.
"He's shown the ability to pitch up here as well, whether that be the role or it's a spot start somewhere that we need," Hurdle said. "Come into play to piggyback another starter. He gave us some very credible innings in the middle of the season."
Hurdle said Wandy Rodriguez was "a little sore" after his rehabilitation start Friday for Class AAA Indianapolis, where he allowed two runs in three innings.
The Pirates will wait to see how Rodriguez feels today before deciding on his next step. The only two Pirates minor league affiliates still playing are West Virginia and short-season Jamestown. Rodriguez could start Sept. 12 for West Virginia, if the Power advances to the South Atlantic League championship series.
Jamestown could be an option, Hurdle said, but "You get talked about bad when you send pro pitchers down to pitch in the playoffs in [Class] A ball. You do what you got to do, but you might want to try and stay away from that."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 8, 2013 4:00 AM