MacDougal on hot seat with White Sox
Reliever in danger of losing 'pen spot if struggles continue
CHICAGO -- For the foreseeable future, Mike MacDougal will be part of the 2009 White Sox bullpen.
The length of this big league stay for the right-hander could be as long as the remainder of the regular season or it could be as abbreviated as just another appearance or two. That resolution primarily falls upon MacDougal and, specifically, his ability to locate within the strike zone.
MacDougal certainly didn't earn any points in his favor Friday, throwing eight straight balls to Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede during the Twins' seven-run seventh inning. But MacDougal bounced right back on Saturday, with a show of confidence from manager Ozzie Guillen, by striking out three over two scoreless innings during an 8-0 victory.
"He needs to throw it over. We can't have what we got last night," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of MacDougal, who is in the final year of a three-year, $6.45 million deal. "But you know what, everybody is a big boy here. They understand that it's unacceptable and we can't have it.
"If there are enough 'unacceptables' and 'can't have its' next to a guy's name, no matter who it is, something has to give. But Mike knows what it is about. He's going to get another opportunity and hopefully will go out there and do what we expect, which is make them swing the bat."
Entering Saturday afternoon's contest at U.S. Cellular Field, MacDougal had a stretch of four straight batters who had reached base against him. Cooper was not displeased with MacDougal's effort Thursday against the Royals because he attacked the opposition, and the Kansas City hitters simply won the battle on that occasion.
One problem faced by MacDougal, though, is any misstep gets noticed immediately because of his past mound struggles that caused MacDougal to be outrighted to the Minors and taken off the 40-man-roster during the past offseason. That little room for error manifested itself in a cold White Sox crowd booing MacDougal off the field on Friday.
"I don't worry about Mac, but if the booing bothers him, he can't pitch here. He can't," Guillen said. "I don't think we have given anybody more chances than him. I don't think we believe in anybody more than him.
"He couldn't find the plate. I wish I could do something about it. I wish I knew what we could do to him to. ... Right now, we're going to let him pitch and see what happens."
Very few people gave MacDougal a chance to break camp with the White Sox when he first arrived in Glendale, Ariz., back on Feb. 15, including general manager Ken Williams, by his own admission. To MacDougal's credit, he earned that final bullpen spot, and as Cooper said Saturday, was one of the 12 best pitchers leaving camp.
When MacDougal locates with his electric stuff, he can be highly effective as proven by his 1.80 ERA over 25 games with the White Sox in 2006 and his success as the Royals closer in 2003 and 2005. If he pitches like he did on Friday, that electric stuff might be working in the Minors or for another organization.
There's no present giving up on MacDougal by Guillen or Cooper. But his room for error has grown a bit smaller.
"You know what, he earned a spot on this team, and what kind of people are we if after two outings we are dumping on a guy?" Cooper said. "We still believe in him and we will believe in him until he shows us that he's not going to through the ball over the plate.
"Throw the ball over, and we got a spot for you. Make them swing the bat and someone will catch the ball. If you don't throw it over, we can't have you -- no matter who it is."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.