No More Doubt, McDonald's a Pitcher Now

When a major position switch takes place in the Dodger organization, it's usually because it's dictated by someone on high. In the case of the latest switchback by James McDonald, though, it's something that he instituted himself.

Feeling that his career as a hitter was taking him on the road to oblivion, in the middle of the season at Ogden, James asked to go back on the mound, something he hadn't been allowed to do since the spring of 2004 when he incurred a bad case of tendinitis.

"They told me they'd have to clear it through T.C, (Terry Collins), " he says now. "Finally the word came back to go ahead and try it so I started working out on the side with (pitching coach ) Bob Welch. He really worked me. We got so I was throwing 100 pitches before he said I was ready."

There have always been conflicting views about McDonald's best spot on the field. When he was in high school at Long Beach Poly, he both pitched and played first base. The notion then was that he showed more promise as a hitter but needed a bit more polish so he was persuaded to attend junior college for a year. It was there at Golden West Community College that he developed his fast ball into the low 90's.

When James signed as a draft-and-follow in late May 2003, he was sent to the mound. Pitching for the Gulf Coast team, the righthander made the decision look wise for, although he was only 2-4, 3.33, he made considerable progress, had strong outings and became highly regarded.

But when tendinitis set in the next spring it rendered him unable to pitch so thoughts about his offensive prowess were revived. He was sent to the outfield or used as a designated hitter to minimize his throwing. At the plate, though, his year off from swinging a bat showed in often bad timing so he wound up at .224 .

Still, he was kept as an outfielder this past spring, stayed in the extended camp where he hit enough to be encouraging and was sent to Ogden. There, though, he didn't produce, batting only .229 with no power to speak of. If the Dodger brass wasn't discouraged, James was. Besides his arm had healed so now he requested the change.

It worked out rather well. Confined to a few innings at the end of the season, he posted a 1.54 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .174 mark. That showing got him an invitation to the Instructional League.

In this camp, he demonstrated generally good form. His fast ball sits in the low 90's and he has a real feel for a curve. His changeup is coming along, too. In all, it was a satisfying camp for James, who used to be rather ambivalent about whether he was a pitcher or hitter. No more hesitation, now. He's sure he belongs on the mound and what's more those on high agree with him.

The only question now is whether he's a starter or a relief man. He started for the most part in the Gulf Coast League and now with enough work in, could easily do that again. He's draft eligible after three seasons but it's doubtful that someone with his little experience would be taken so they'll probably gamble and leave him out there.

In the past, there are some who have compared him to Edwin Jackson, another on whom the decision to favor his pitching prowess over his skills with the bat had also been made. And like Jackson, he has the precocity and athletic talent to move up quickly.

For at last, everyone is comfortable that they've found where he belongs.