Right-hander James McDonald earned a spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2009 starting rotation with a modest showing this spring. He allowed 21 hits in and eight walks in 19.2 innings of work. McDonald also struck out 13 batters. The club has good pitching depth and the rookie will slot in behind Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.
Claudio Vargas dropped out of consideration for the No. 5 spot after allowing 25 hits in 15.1 innings. He also suffered an injury to his arm and will likely begin the year on the DL. Veteran Eric Milton, working his way back from Tommy John surgery, allowed 38 hits in 19.2 innings of work and will start the season in the minors.
McDonald has much more talent than his numbers would suggest. The 24-year-old hurler spent time in Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors in 2008. He spent the majority of the year in Double-A, where he allowed 98 hits in 118.2 innings. He posted rates of 3.49 BB/9 and 8.57 K/9. In six big league innings, McDonald allowed five hits and one walk, to go along with two strikeouts. He also pitched very well in the playoffs. McDonald’s biggest problem in his regular season debut was that he induced groundballs at a clip of just 15%. Thankfully, the Dodgers team plays in a spacious park.
He’s not overpowering, but the starter-turned-hitter-turned-starter-again has a solid repertoire, which includes a fastball that sits between 89-91 mph and can touch 94 mph. McDonald also has a plus curveball and a good change-up. His control is improving, as is his command.
The right-hander is not as flashy as 2008 rookie Kershaw, but McDonald should be a little more consistent at this point. He probably shouldn’t top 170 innings pitched in 2009, after throwing fewer than 150 innings last season (not including the playoffs). McDonald has a good shot at providing 10 wins for a solid LA club, as well as 120-130 strikeouts. Last season, the club got six wins and a 6.27 ERA out of its No. 5 starter (Brad Penny).
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