Until now, he hasn’t had a chance to show his former team what it let go.
McDonald returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night for the first time since Los Angeles sent him to Pittsburgh at the 2010 trade deadline.
The Dodgers (74-76) were trying to shore up their pitching staff for a playoff push last summer, and on July 31 they landed Octavio Dotel(notes) - who had been closing with the Pirates - for McDonald and minor league outfielder Andrew Lambo.
Dotel didn’t even end the season in Los Angeles - the Dodgers shipped him to Colorado in September after falling out of contention - but McDonald (9-8, 4.09 ERA) has arguably the highest ceiling in Pittsburgh’s current rotation.
The right-hander posted a 3.26 ERA and struck out 54 in 60 2-3 innings in his first 10 starts after the All-Star break, and he seemed to be on his way to another strong outing Sunday against Florida.
But after tossing four shutout innings, McDonald gave up four runs and didn’t make it out of the fifth in a 4-1 loss that showed there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“I lost my rhythm a little bit,” said McDonald, who’s pitched 20 2-3 innings more than he has in any professional season. “That’s the one thing that I (need to) learn - once I feel that, to be able to step back and say, ‘OK, let’s get my rhythm back.’”
McDonald, who made 52 appearances but just five starts in parts of three seasons in Los Angeles, has typically been fine as long as he hasn’t let homers pile up. He’s 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA this season when he allows one home run or fewer but 0-4 with an 8.70 ERA in the six outings he’s surrendered two or more.
That shouldn’t be a problem against the Dodgers, who have gone 19 games without going deep twice - a stretch in which they’ve hit a major league-low eight homers.
“Those extra runs made it a lot easier on us,” manager Don Mattingly said.
While McDonald was moved hours before the 2010 trade deadline, Saturday’s starter is a pitcher Los Angeles acquired that same day.
Ted Lilly(notes) (9-14, 4.39) posted 10 quality starts in 12 outings down the stretch for the Dodgers last season, but 2011 has been a different story. He’s only done that 13 times in 30 starts, and none in his last three.
Much like McDonald’s latest outing, Lilly’s last start unraveled quickly. The left-hander cruised through five one-hit innings Monday against Arizona, but Mattingly removed him during a jam in the sixth and Lilly wound up being charged with three runs in a 7-2 loss.
Lilly has made four straight quality starts against Pittsburgh, going 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA.