McDonald impresses out of bullpen
Torre praises reliever for confidence in Game 2 appearance
LOS ANGELES -- As James McDonald settled into his seat in the Dodgers' clubhouse and started answering questions from a couple of reporters on Saturday, the player sitting to his left turned to the rookie to mock his newfound fame."Showtime," shouted Manny Ramirez with a smile on his face, as he's the one usually commanding all the attention.
But even McDonald never could have imagined answering questions about his stellar National League Championship Series debut as late as the end of July, when he was just a top prospect minding his time with Double-A Jacksonville.After spending the first four months in Double-A, August with Triple-A Las Vegas and then September with the Dodgers making his Major League debut, McDonald earned his way onto the playoff roster and tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings to keep the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS in his playoff debut. "It's crazy. It's super exciting," McDonald said. "It was like the moment you live for, playoffs, series like this. It's a dream come true. "I never thought I would be at the place I am now. My goal was to be here, at least be in the Major Leagues." The Dodgers called up McDonald, who has earned the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors two consecutive years, in September to get his feet wet for a potential run at a rotation spot next season. They never brought him in during the middle of an inning, as they did with the bases loaded and Pat Burrell at the plate in the third inning of Game 2. But he impressed by tossing six scoreless regular-season innings mainly in games that had already been decided. Manager Joe Torre knew he made the right decision to put McDonald on the Dodgers' playoff roster when the rookie clapped his hands with determination when Torre told him the good news in Chicago. He did not get into the series against the Cubs, but when the Dodgers needed some length in the middle of Game 2 against the Phillies, McDonald was ready. "He really impressed the heck out of me," Torre said. "I learned a lot from watching him, just his presence and his confidence in himself. And this kid's going to have a pretty bright future." Catcher Russell Martin said he was impressed by everything McDonald did, fooling Phillies batters with changeups, even in tough 3-2 counts for strikeouts, and showing good life on his fastball. Martin said he did not give the rookie any sort of pep talk but kept things professional between innings with a pat on the back to congratulate him. "That's not easy to do, and he just went out there and took care of it," Martin said. "I'm proud of him. You never know how a guy's going to respond in a pressure situation, and he aced it. We were on the same page, and he was just dealing." Game 2 also marked the playoff debut of rookie left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who relieved McDonald with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Kershaw said he enjoyed the experience and, like McDonald, felt it will help him down the road. But when Kershaw and McDonald started the season in Jacksonville's starting rotation, it would have been a stretch for either pitcher to believe they would be combining to throw five scoreless innings in an NLCS game in 2008. "It probably didn't cross our minds, that's for sure," Kershaw said. "I'm sure it was his goal. It was my goal, too, to get up there, and we're just having fun with it. It was a lot of fun last night, and I'm sure he was just as excited as I was to get in there." The Dodgers figure to lean heavily on Kershaw and McDonald down the road, so their debuts make for at least one positive in the Game 2 loss. During that outing, McDonald found advice he received from Class A Inland Empire pitching coach Charlie Hough just one season ago rings true even in the pressure cooker of the NLCS. "A good pitch is a good pitch anywhere, so if you make quality pitches, you're going to have success," McDonald recalled Hough telling him. "Just don't be afraid of anybody."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.