Manager Clint Hurdle said he hopes to push James McDonald to five innings and 80 pitches during the right-hander's next rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Indianapolis. The outing will be McDonald's third rehab start since hitting the DL with shoulder stiffness on May 7.
Meanwhile, Charlie Morton was scheduled to throw a side session on Wednesday and make his fourth start for Indianapolis on Saturday. Hurdle would like to see the right-hander make it to 95 pitches.
As Morton nears the end of the typical 12-month recovery timetable for Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, the Pirates are wary of Morton making a premature return to the big leagues that could put more pressure on the bullpen amid a heated National League Central race.
That sentiment holds true with McDonald's shorter-term disabled list stay, as the righty had made it past the fifth inning only twice in his six April starts.
"The challenge we have right now is we want to bring people back that are game ready, that are going to give us meaningful innings," Hurdle said on Monday. "We don't need somebody going out only giving us three or four innings off the starting bump right now -- the situations we've been navigating through."
The Pirates hope that the aftereffects of the 10-inning workload shouldered by their bullpen on Sunday are finally in the rearview mirror. Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson did not appear in the team's first two games against the Braves after combining for eight of those innings. The team's 5-4, 11-inning win over the Reds has carried a ripple effect throughout its trip to Atlanta.
"We've gotten through the hard part now, we've actually got some guys coming back available out of the 'pen today," Hurdle said before Wednesday's finale at Turner Field.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.