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04/30/09 3:11 AM ET

McDonald faces key start for Dodgers

Los Angeles (14-8) vs. San Diego (11-10), 7:10 p.m. PT

SAN FRANCISCO -- After spending most of April on the road, the Dodgers' longest homestand of the season opens Thursday night against the Padres.

But the friendly surroundings won't make the start any less critical for rookie James McDonald, who might be pitching to keep his role as fifth starter.

McDonald brings with him a 7.11 ERA and there's nothing lucky about that. Although he's coming off his first Major League victory Saturday in Colorado, he allowed five runs and walked four in five innings.

"I know I can do better," said McDonald, who showed that last September and October, when he pitched 11 1/3 innings without allowing a run. "But last year at the beginning I started slow and in '07 the same thing."

McDonald has been seen this week hours before game time practicing his motion on the bullpen mound without a ball.

"When I'm feeling uncomfortable with my mechanics, I might go down there and throw until I feel comfortable and everything clicks," he said. "I've done it three or four times since my last start. I'll make 15 or 20 motions until it feels natural. Sometimes that helps me find it."

McDonald believes a flaw in his delivery has been detected.

"My body is pulling off on the left side and my arm is out here on the right side," he said. "I made a correction and made about 25 throws and it felt a lot better."

Although McDonald was named the fifth starter out of Spring Training, the Dodgers have a trio of veterans in the rotation at Triple-A Albuquerque -- Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver and Shawn Estes -- just waiting for a callup.

Weaver is likely to get the first call, and the Dodgers already sent Scott Elbert out to Double-A Chattanooga to make room. Reliever Cory Wade also is close to being activated, but the club might want to see how McDonald pitches before deciding who will be sent down to make room for Wade, who has been disabled with shoulder bursitis.

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP James McDonald (1-1, 7.11 ERA)
McDonald almost put in a duplicate of his start in Arizona two weeks earlier with two scoreless innings, then a third-inning rally that included a walk to the opposing pitcher. He stayed in long enough to allow five runs in five innings, good enough for his first victory. With Weaver moving into the starting rotation at Triple-A, McDonald's role could change.

SD: RHP Josh Geer (0-0, 4.91 ERA)
Geer allowed five runs in four innings Saturday when he had to fill in for an injured Shawn Hill, who left after two innings with soreness in his right biceps and elbow. Geer, who would normally have thrown 50 pitches on his regular between-starts "throw day" instead was left to soak up innings so the Padres could protect their bullpen. Geer wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in his first start of the season, on April 19 against the Phillies, when he allowed one earned run in seven innings. He elevated several pitches against the Pirates, something he certainly won't be able to afford when he faces the Dodgers.

Manny Ramirez went 1-for-3 with a walk Wednesday and is hitting .417 over his last six games. ... With Blake DeWitt's pinch-single and Mark Loretta's pinch-double Wednesday, Dodgers pinch-hitters are 12-for-26. ... Juan Pierre, in limited duty, is hitting .400. ... Randy Wolf's "Wolf Den," a program Wolf began while with the club in 2007, will return this season. The pitcher's community program will support Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease) Association. Wolf will host groups from both organizations starting this Friday.

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

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On radio
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Up next
• Friday: Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, 0-2, 7.29) vs. Padres (Jake Peavy, 2-3, 5.74), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Dodgers (Randy Wolf, 1-1, 4.31) vs. Padres (Chris Young, 2-1, 5.74), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 4-0, 2.14) vs. Padres (Chad Gaudin, 0-0, 0.00), 1:10 p.m. PT

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