D.J. Short

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Marvelous McDonald

Friday, June 22, 2012

We only had six games on the schedule Thursday, which is sort of a bummer, but it also provides the perfect opportunity to discuss James McDonald's breakout campaign.

McDonald delivered yet another impressive outing Thursday night, limiting the Twins to just one run on six hits for his first career complete game as part of a 9-1 victory. The 27-year-old right-hander struck out five and walked none while throwing a career-high 120 pitches.

Through his first 14 starts this season, McDonald has a fantastic 2.19 ERA and 83/24 K/BB ratio over 90 1/3 innings. He's currently fourth in the majors in ERA and only Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver and R.A. Dickey have bested his 0.95 WHIP. Where the heck did this come from? And is it sustainable?

For the most part, there's a lot to like here. With increased reliance on his slider as a secondary pitch, McDonald has made dramatic strides in his strikeout, swinging strike and walk rates from last season. He has walked three batters in a start just twice this season after doing it 16 times in 31 starts last year. The improved command and control has allowed him to complete seven innings six times this season after getting there just twice last year.

While there are skills driving McDonald's breakout, he has also been the beneficiary of some good fortune. He has allowed just four homers over 90 1/3 innings this season after serving up 24 in 171 innings last year. His fly ball rate is almost identical to last year, so don't be surprised to see a few more leave the yard in the future. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is also a bit on the fortunate side when you consider that opposing batters are hitting line drives at a higher rate against him than they did last season. It's nitpicking, but necessary nitpicking. I think his ERA will go up in the days ahead, but this is hardly a sell-high scenario.

A's Call Up Norris

In what figures to be the first in a wave of top prospects being called up from the minors over the next few days and weeks, the Athletics promoted catcher Derek Norris from Triple-A Sacramento on Thursday. He was thrown right into the lineup against the Dodgers and went 0-for-3 in his major league debut. His big highlight of the afternoon was throwing out the speedy Dee Gordon, who attempted to steal second base in the top of the ninth inning.  

Norris, who was acquired from the Nationals as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal, was hitting .273/.331/.474 with eight homers, 36 RBI and an .804 OPS over his first 55 games at the Triple-A level this season. The 23-year-old backstop is mostly known for his combination of power and patience, but he has been more aggressive at the plate this season, walking less and cutting down on his strikeouts in the process.

The current plan calls for Norris to split playing time behind the plate with struggling veteran Kurt Suzuki, who is hitting just .215/.256/.267 with zero homers and a .524 OPS through 60 games this season. This arrangement could stick for a while, as Suzuki is owed $5 million this season, $6.45 million in 2013 and has a $9.25 million vesting option for 2014. The A's are unlikely to find any team willing to take on that kind of salary. Norris should be owned in AL-only leagues on pure potential alone, but the timeshare will limit his potential impact.

Drew Getting Closer

After missing 11 months following surgery on his right ankle, Stephen Drew is finally close to rejoining the Diamondbacks. During an appearance on Arizona Sports Radio 620 on Thursday, general manager Kevin Towers said that he expects Drew to be activated from the disabled list next Wednesday.

Drew began a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A earlier this month and is hitting .250 (9-for-36) with two home runs, one double, one triple and five RBI in nine games. The 29-year-old shortstop has gradually increased his workload throughout, having played in three straight games on two occasions.

I still think Drew makes for a good DL-stash in deeper mixed leagues, but it's worth noting that Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson recently said that he's considering using him as a part-time player upon his return. I doubt this arrangement will last long if he feels comfortable and swings the bat well out of the gate, but fantasy owners may have to be patient.

NL Quick Hits: Troy Tulowitzki is expected to miss at least six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery Thursday to remove scar tissue from a nerve in his groin … Phillies manager Charlie Manuel indicated Thursday that Chase Utley (knee) could be activated from the disabled list as soon as next week if his rehab continues to go well … Brandon Beachy underwent successful Tommy John surgery Thursday and will likely be sidelined through the early part of the 2013 campaign … Drew Stubbs (oblique) is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday with Class A Dayton … Clayton Kershaw tossed eight innings of one-run ball Thursday against the A's to lower his ERA to 2.73 for the year, but was handed a no-decision … Allen Craig went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts Thursday after leaving Wednesday's game with a jammed left wrist … Drew Storen is currently throwing at about 85-90 percent and is slated to face hitters Friday for the first time since elbow surgery … Jayson Werth (wrist) worked out briefly on the field Thursday at Nationals Park …

AL Quick Hits: MLB suspended Joel Peralta for eight games after he was found to have pine tar on the inside of his glove on Tuesday. He has appealed the punishment and will continue to pitch out of the Rays bullpen for now … Joe Mauer (quad) missed his third straight game Thursday … Dustin Pedroia (thumb) went 0-for-5 in his return to the lineup Thursday … Carl Crawford (elbow) is expected to serve as the DH for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox on Saturday … Alex Avila (hamstring) went 1-for-4 with a strikeout Thursday in his return from the disabled list … Andrew Bailey (thumb) could begin facing hitters next week … Yoenis Cespedes launched a walk-off three-run homer in a win over the Dodgers on Thursday … Will Middlebrooks went 3-for-4 with a game-tying two-run homer and four RBI in Thursday's win over the Marlins … Salvador Perez (knee) was pulled from the lineup with Triple-A Omaha on Thursday, which has led to speculation that he could be joining the Royals … Brian Duensing is slated to start for the Twins on Saturday against the Red Sox … Jacob Turner tossed five innings of one-run ball Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals, but it's not clear if he'll stick in the starting rotation … Luke Scott (back) took batting practice Thursday and is expected to be activated from the disabled list Monday …

D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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