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03/21/09 8:19 PM ET

McDonald thrust into LA rotation talk

Relaxed approach leads to 'very impressive' outing on Saturday

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- What pitching shortage? The Dodgers keep parading young hurlers to the mound, one of whom might just hit the jackpot of the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation.

The latest on Saturday was wiry right-hander James McDonald, who threw three nearly perfect innings at the start of the Dodgers' 6-4 Cactus League victory over the Indians.

Citing a more relaxed state thanks to the input of numerous pitching coaches with whom he has worked, McDonald looked different from the guy who had struggled in his first five appearances, all in relief.

"I'd been putting too much pressure on myself when I'm on the mound," said the soft-spoken pitcher, who entered with an ERA of 7.71 in 9 1/3 innings. "I talked to a bunch of pitching coaches, and they all said they'd gone through the same thing, and you just have to relax.

"I was definitely more relaxed today. I stopped trying to be too tricky. I'd been trying to strike everyone out, like I didn't want to pitch to contact."

Not Saturday. McDonald had only one whiff -- of the last man he faced -- while having only a first-inning walk mar his outing.

Before the game, Dodgers manager Joe Torre put McDonald in the mix of rotation candidates. Quoting Yogi Berra, Torre said, "Nobody has made himself necessary."

Afterward, he praised his "very confident" outing.

"He threw a lot of fastballs, and had good command of them," Torre said. "He only threw a couple of curves. Very impressive. No one is a slam dunk. It's definitely open-ended."

McDonald is scheduled to make another start on Thursday, against the Rockies. He is on the same throwing schedule as Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched in a Minor League game Saturday and will now take an extra day of rest.

Veterans in the scrum include Claudio Vargas, Eric Milton, Shawn Estes and Eric Stults -- and the freshest face in the mix, 21-year-old righty Josh Lindblom, who had thrown himself into the competition by pitching impressively Friday night.

Scouts who hadn't before seen Lindblom were blown away by his performance, as he blanked Kansas City on one hit in two innings, while striking out three. One even compared the 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander's demeanor to that of the late Don Drysdale, a true Dodgers icon.

Torre said he wouldn't have any reservations going with a second-year pro who has logged only 35 Minor League innings.

"That's 35 that has been charted. But I heard last night he's pitched in other games, like college tournaments," Torre said.

McDonald's resume is a bit more robust -- and more impressive. He has been selected the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year the past two seasons -- when he went a combined 20-13 in Class A through Triple-A with ERAs in the low threes both years.

When given a look late last season and into the postseason, McDonald didn't blink. Rather, in a total of 11 1/3 big league innings, he has yet to allow a run, while allowing eight hits and issuing three walks and striking out nine.

He was asked whether the twin Minor League Pitcher of the Year citations accounted for the self-imposed pressure, from the feeling that his time has come and he needed validation.

"I think that was part of it," McDonald said. "But I'm going to try not to worry [about the rotation competition] and let the organization make the decision. I feel that I thrive on competition."

"He looked very loose and comfortable before the game. He even kibitzed with his teammates, which was good to see," Torre said. "And he went out there very confident.

"You have to learn how not to put extra pressure on yourself. You can't worry about things you can't control. After the taste he had last year, all the dynamics changed for him. He was out there trying to make our decision."

After his outing, McDonald retreated to the bullpen to get in additional work while Estes replaced him against the Indians. But he only made about 10 pitches before a developing blister on his middle finger prompted him to stop.

"I've had problems with that on and off for years," McDonald said. "It usually goes away in two days. But I stopped today when I felt it. It's already gone."

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