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01/27/09 8:14 PM EST

Precedent set for McDonald to 'pen

Dodgers went with same strategy with Billingsley in 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, in town last week to work with the young pitchers in the Winter Developmental minicamp, said one of the reasons James McDonald is being moved to the bullpen is Chad Billingsley.

"We're hoping to do what we did with Chad a few years ago," Honeycutt said, referring to 2007, when Billingsley opened the season in relief. "He can get his feet wet that way and see how it goes. And like Chad, he can always become a starter again."

Billingsley was exclusively a starter, even when he arrived from Triple-A in June of 2006 to replace Odalis Perez in the rotation as a 21-year-old. But during Spring Training of 2007 Billingsley was sent to the bullpen, while manager Grady Little gave the fifth starter job to veteran Brett Tomko.

Ultimately, Jason Schmidt broke down and Billingsley was pressed back into starter duty, where he's been ever since, now having inherited the duties of ace with the departures of veteran free agents Derek Lowe and Brad Penny.

As they were with Billingsley, the Dodgers are intrigued with having a power pitcher coming out of the bullpen in the middle innings as a contrast to strike-thrower Cory Wade. In McDonald's case, his fastball picked up as much as five mph when the Dodgers used him in relief in late September and into October.

An athletic 6-foot-5 right-hander, McDonald could eventually return to a starter role, although there are some in the organization who believe he also could eventually handle the closer role should Jonathan Broxton not be up to the job he has inherited from Takashi Saito, who was non-tendered.

McDonald is 24, a Long Beach native drafted in the 11th round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2002. In his second and third professional seasons, he took a stab at the outfield while allowing a tender right arm to heal. He resumed pitching in '06 and made a breakthrough in '07, splitting time between Class A and Double-A while being named the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year with 168 strikeouts in 134 2/3 innings.

Hot Stove

Last year, he split time between Double-A and Triple-A and again was named the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year, accomplishing the feat back-to-back for the first time since Billingsley.

McDonald was promoted to the Majors on Sept. 1 and was a spectator until his Major League debut on the 17th, when he struck out two of the three batters he faced and caught the eye of manager Joe Torre. He would pitch in three more regular-season games, finishing with six scoreless innings, two strikeouts and one walk.

It was impressive enough to earn the rookie a spot on the post-season rosters for playoff series against the Cubs and Phillies, beating out veteran Scott Proctor and fellow rookie Ramon Troncoso. McDonald didn't pitch against the Cubs, but made two appearances against the Phillies, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.