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Shrinking James McDonald could be headed back to minors

March 20, 2010 | 11:34 am
James McDonald
James McDonald
, what do we make of you?

McDonald seemed a lock to make the 25-man when spring began, if not back in the rotation at least in the bullpen.

He struggled last year after winning the fifth spot out of spring but switched to the bullpen and pitched effectively (4-4, 2.72 ERA) the rest of the season.

Coming into spring, he was considered a slight favorite to reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation. He is, after all, only 25 and the Dodgers’ two-time minor league pitcher of the year. This is a guy the team would want to win the spot.

But he’s pitched so abysmally this spring, Manager Joe Torre said last week his immediate future was in the bullpen. Then after his continued struggles Friday (six runs on six hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings), Ken Gurnick at Dodgers.com rightly questioned whether he would now even make the team as a reliever.

Torre seemed to reinforce the view that McDonald may end up at triple-A in his pregame meeting with reporters Saturday.

"It's frustrating for him, trust me," Torre said. "If he ends up in Albuquerque, he would start to give him innings."

His spring numbers are astoundingly bad (20.25 ERA, 19 baserunners in 5 1/3 innings), but as examined at MikeSciosciasTragicIllness.com, preseason numbers can be difficult to quantify compared with actual historic performance in the regular season.

But McDonald also has another thing going against him: He has minor-league options left.

Several other pitchers vying for roster spots could be lost if they don’t make the team. They are either out of options (Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger), a Rule 5 pick that would have to be returned (Carlos Monasterios) or are believed to have contract options that would enable them to become free agents (Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz) if sent down.

It all adds up badly for McDonald at the moment. It appears he may need to go back down to regain his command -- and confidence.

If that’s how the spring plays out, ultimately, it may not prove a bad thing. If he can go back to Albuquerque and get it together, the Dodgers will need another starter at some point this season. McDonald still reeks of potential, and his future may yet be as a starter.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: James McDonald pitches for the Dodgers against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on May 7, 2009. Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport / US Presswire

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