For starters, McDonald thankful he has a role

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- James McDonald has pitched in the majors for parts of the past three seasons. But the tall, lanky 26-year-old right-hander has never been in a rotation as a full-time starter in spring training.

McDonald, 6 feet 4 and 200 pounds, is getting that opportunity with the Pirates, who acquired him in July from the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with outfielder Andrew Lambo, in exchange for closer Octavio Dotel.

McDonald, likely to be the No. 3 starter, is thankful for the opportunity.

"You come into the season knowing what you're going to be doing," he said. "That's nice. It's not like coming to camp and working as a reliever, and all of a sudden, you might be a starter next week.

"You know what kind of shape your arm needs to be in. You know what kind of shape your body needs to be in. You know your routine."

Although he was one of the Pirates' most consistent starters down the stretch last season, McDonald's second start of the spring Sunday was rocky.

He allowed four hits and four runs (two earned) in 2 2/3 innings in a 5-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. He struck out two and walked one.

He allowed three consecutive hits to start the game and two earned runs in the first inning.

"The first inning, I got behind guys and didn't throw strike one," said McDonald, who is 0-1 this spring with a 3.86 earned-run average.

"The arm strength's there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The velocity picked up. He threw the numbers of pitches we want. So we'll take it and move on."

After joining the Pirates, McDonald went 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts. He was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his final five outings.

A one-time outfielder who twice was named the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year, McDonald still is in the process of making the transition from reliever to starter.

"James is doing very well, because right now he's just focused on being a starter," Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. "Whereas last year, he was jockeying back and forth between reliever and starter [with the Dodgers], and when he came to us he was strictly a starter.

"So he was able to work out during the winter and get his stuff together there and start narrowing his focus for being a starter."

An 11th-round pick of the Dodgers in 2002, McDonald made his major-league debut in relief against the Pirates Sept, 17, 2008, pitching one scoreless inning with two strikeouts. He also tossed a combined 51/3 innings of scoreless relief in the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies later that season.

McDonald, whose father James played tight end for the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions during a five-year NFL career, compiled a 5-6 record in 53 games with the Dodgers, but made just five starts.

"It's hard bouncing back and forth from the bullpen to starter, but it's something I had to do to try to help my career," McDonald said.

Entering the 2009 season, McDonald was ranked the second-best prospect in the Dodgers' minor league system by Baseball America.

McDonald has an outstanding changeup, but said he needs a good fastball, which he throws in the low-to-mid 90s, to be effective.

Buried treasure

• Former Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista went 3 for 3 Sunday, with two doubles, two runs and an RBI against his former teammates. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was asked before the game if he regrets trading Bautista in 2008. "Any time somebody hits 54 home runs and he used to be in your organization, sure. ... But I think the reality of it was that his time had come and gone here."

• Huntington said trade talks involving catcher Ryan Doumit, who will earn $5.1 million this year, have kind of slowed for now.

"Conversations continue to go on on all fronts," Huntington said. "The first three or four weeks of spring training, it typically dies down. There's really no conversations going on because everybody's focused on their own clubs."

• Reliever Joe Beimel (sore left forearm) will continue to work his way back, but no timetable has been set for his return, Huntington said. Beimel threw a bullpen session Sunday morning.

• "I got to think Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan are probably the two locks in the bullpen, and then there's some guys who are in a little better standing than some other guys," Huntington said.

Meek (tightness in right calf) is expected to make his first spring training appearance at 1:05 today against the Tampa Bay Rays at McKechnie Field.

Ron Musselman: . First Published March 7, 2011 5:00 AM


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