McDonald likely to be LA's fifth starter
Torre 'intrigued' by right-hander, who is battling blister problem
PHOENIX -- Jason Schmidt was the surprise starter for the Dodgers on Sunday, which doesn't mean he's back in the picture to be the fifth starter, at least not by early April.
Manager Joe Torre all but said rookie James McDonald will win that job.
"We're certainly intrigued with McDonald," Torre said. "McDonald is that guy ... we want to see more of."
The other contenders have pretty much backed out of the race and now the biggest threat to the rookie is a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand that cut short his last start Thursday but didn't stop him from his full bullpen session two days later.
Torre said McDonald, who pitched three scoreless innings in each of his past two starts, will start again Tuesday and Sunday, which puts him in line to start the fifth game of the season April 10 in Arizona as long as the blister doesn't worsen.
McDonald said he's had them on occasion without missing action.
"I might get one a year, but I've never come out of a game," he said. "This one is already hardening up. It didn't hurt the last time, I just didn't want it to get to the point where it would. It happens when my fingernail cracks and gets too short and the skin gets pinched by the nail. It's already growing out. I don't think it's a problem."
Eric Stults at one time was in the fifth-starter picture. But he's been dealing with the recent death of his mother and even four solid innings of a Triple-A game Sunday wasn't enough to get him back in the picture.
"He needs to get back where he gets his confidence," Torre said. "He's been pitching with a very heavy heart, with a lot of distractions at this point."
Torre wasn't able to clear up the competition for the last few bullpen spots, which became further complicated by the belated pursuit of free-agent left-hander Will Ohman, whose need was underscored when Erick Threets was ineffective Sunday. Assured of bullpen spots are Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Cory Wade and Guillermo Mota. If Ohman is signed for the second lefty role, two jobs would still remain, and Jeff Weaver has been handled all spring as if he'll get one of them.
Then there's the "jam job," the pitcher a manager uses to put down a messy inning. Tanyon Sturtze, trumpeted by Torre because of his experience and leadership, came up with back-to-back shaky appearances. Meanwhile, Ramon Troncoso, who seemed to pitch himself out of a job in early spring games, is alive again with a three-ground-ball inning Sunday, making four of five scoreless outings.
"We want Troncoso to do well," Torre said. "You need that guy who can come into a jam and get the double play, and with his sinker, he can do that. You need that guy to come in and stay cool. Sturtzey has that ability. He did it in New York, on that stage. Fear is not part of his makeup."
And then, of course, there's 21-year-old rookie Josh Lindblom. He pitched two more scoreless innings and has now allowed two runs in nine innings. The 2.00 ERA is lower than every pitcher still in the Major League camp except for Brian Mazone's overlooked 1.12.
It's hard to make the case that the Dodgers have 12 pitchers better than Lindblom, but he has only 34 professional innings after being a second-round pick last year. The thought since his promotion two weeks ago has been to repeat the handling of 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw last year -- give him a taste of big league exhibition games, have him start the season at Double-A and monitor his innings, then call him up during the season.
The difference between Lindblom this year and Kershaw last year is the Dodgers had more depth in their bullpen last year and a greater need for help this year. That's why, after realizing it's not easy replacing Takashi Saito, Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park at the same time, they're making a late run at Ohman. Torre admits that getting Lindblom immediately is tempting, but it's tempered by organization reluctance to rush him.
"I'd still put him in the category of Kershaw," Torre said. "He [Kershaw] was impressive last year, but you knew where he'd start the season [Double-A]. He'll [Lindblom] go west with us and get another chance to pitch."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.