The Pittsburgh Pirates are hoping to ride a hot hand and revive a cold hand by flip-flopping starting pitchers in their temporary six-man rotation.
A.J. Burnett’s next turn to pitch has been moved up a day, and he will start Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the finale of a four-game series and 11-game homestand. Burnett, the ace of the staff with a 14-4 record, will be pitching on his normal four days of rest.
James McDonald, conversely, has been moved back a day and will start Friday night at St. Louis in the opener of what figures to be a pivotal three-game series. The Pirates hold a two-game lead over St. Louis for the second National League wild card.
McDonald will be pitching on six days of rest after being tagged for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in a loss to San Diego on Aug. 10.
McDonald will have extra time to work on the side with pitching coach Ray Searage by having a week off between starts. The Pirates hope they can find a cure to McDonald’s second-half ills — he is 1-2 with an 8.71 ERA since the All-Star break after going 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts in the first half.
The Pirates have used six starters the last two turns through the rotation and plan to continue to do so until a stretch of 20 games in 20 days ends on Aug. 23. However, Burnett told manager Clint Hurdle that he prefers to stay in a regular routine of four days between starts instead of five.
“I think the one game pushing A.J. back, giving him the extra day, is sufficient enough, in conversation with him, to get him back on a five-day schedule,” Hurdle said. “That’s as important as the other one. Keeping your staff ace in a good place, I think, would be at the top of the list.”