After AJ Burnett's freak accident while trying to lay down a bunt, the Pirates suddenly lost their ace before he could throw a single pitch. Out 2-3 months with an orbital fracture, Burnett became the talk of Pittsburgh after the Pirates acquired his rights from the Yankees on February 18th. Pirates' pitching coach, Ray Searage, immediately dubbed Burnett the "ace" before the final stitches were sewn to Burnett's jersey.

On thursday, Burnett was injured after bunting a ball into his eye. Video of the injury quickly spread as Pirates fans watched the blood drip off of Burnett's helmet. While acquiring Burnett certainly didn't put the Pirates into World Series discussions, his injury seemed to bring out the cursed mentality from Pirates' fans.

Now, the onus falls on 27 year old James McDonald to stabilize a shallow rotation. After suffering an oblique injury last March, McDonald struggled in the first half of the 2011 season with a 4.72 ERA. In the second half, McDonald regained his sub-4.00 ERA and struck out 75 batters in 85 innings.

His biggest downfall? Luck.

Despite lowering his line drive and fly ball ratios, McDonald allowed 24 home runs in 2011, leaving him tied for 16th in the Majors in most home runs allowed. If he can keep the ball in the park a little more, the Pirates could have their ace before Burnett makes his return.

The Pirates have been looking for someone to take the reins as the leader of the rotation. AJ Burnett was supposed to be that guy, but the team cannot wait 2-3 months -half the season- for him to return. The rotation showed a competitive spirit throughout the first half of 2011 and Ray Searage will certainly hold them to a higher standard heading into this year.

If this is truly a club that wants to show it is tired of losing, they need to win despite the setbacks and they need someone to step up and set an example. For the pitchers, James McDonald has the confidence and natural ability to be that type of player. When looking at the rest of the rotation, all the other pitchers have bigger question marks.

Can Erik Bedard stay healthy and pitch a full season?

Did Jeff Karstens luck run out?

Is Charlie Morton able to throw in April after recover from hip surgery?

Can Kevin Correia pitch consistently for more than a month?

At 27 years old, entering his prime years for most pitchers, it is time to see James McDonald take the mound as a leader. If he pitches well enough in Spring Training, his first matchup could be on Opening Day against Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies.

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