Keys' McDonald hits stride after slow start

Improving outfielder, 20, leaves the flash to others


Minor-League Baseball

July 26, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When April ended, Darnell McDonald was floundering around the .180 batting level and looking little like the 26th player chosen in baseball's 1997 amateur draft.

The number rose steadily in May and then he turned hot, batting .337 for the Single-A Frederick Keys last month while walking twice as many times as he struck out. Suddenly, McDonald was back to normal.

"I think he has made a lot of good improvement in a lot of areas," said Keys manager Andy Etchebarren. "His swing is better, his base running is better and his outfield play is better. And he is learning how to hit."

Moving to the leadoff spot -- a factor that helped him last season at Delmarva -- may have been an aid to a player who turned down a football scholarship to the University of Texas to sign a lucrative Orioles contract.

"I have no thoughts at all about football," said McDonald, who rushed for 6,121 yards as a high school tailback in Colorado. "I love what I'm doing. This game is my first love and I'm doing everything I can to get to Baltimore."

And when does he hope that happens? "I don't want to get there just to get there. I want to make an impact."

Only 20, McDonald is somewhat of an introvert. His playing style is not overly gaudy or noticeable and Etchebarren says that is good in a lot of ways.

"He keeps to himself and doesn't get upset when he makes a bonehead play. He sits on the bench and evaluates what he just did. He's a thinker, not a thrower," Etchebarren said.

Because of his football background, McDonald has an excellent first step on steal attempts.

"He probably gets a better jump than anybody on our club," Etchebarren said. "It's running back acceleration, so he figures to steal a lot of bases. On the other hand, he's a little heavy in the legs and I think he might have to watch his weight eventually."

McDonald had 35 steals for the Delmarva Shorebirds and is on a pace to nearly equal that this season.

Left field and right field have been his positions so far, and he has played sparingly in center.

As for his demeanor, McDonald simply said: "It doesn't do any good to cuss and throw your helmet. I like to go back and reflect and then do something different from whatever the mistake was. I'm not happy with myself, but I am making adjustments."

Triple-A Rochester

After a torrid start in July (24-for-48), Calvin Pickering has cooled off and is in a 1-for-16 slump. Jesse Garcia returned to play two games before reinjuring his left wrist and is on a day-to-day basis. Former Orioles pitchers Mike Boddicker and Mickey Weston were inducted into the Red Wings Hall of Fame last weekend.

Pete Hartmann was assigned to Bowie but was allowed to stay in Rochester while his truck was being repaired. He never got to Bowie because a roster spot reopened during the delay. Terry Burrows rejoined the team from rehabilitation in Florida and Mike Murphy was released. The Red Wings have been shut out 12 times and are still threatening the team's worst record ever (52-88 in 1984).

Double-A Bowie

Augie Ojeda's streak of consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout ended at 75, tying Edgar Alfonso's Baysox record, and Johnny Isom equaled another team record (146 career RBIs shared with Howie Clark). Matt Riley is two innings short of qualifying for the Eastern League earned run average title. His current figure is 2.28. Rick Short continues to challenge for the batting title. He went on an 11-game batting streak (he had two of 12 earlier) in which he was 20-for-42. Short also became the third Baysox player with 50 or more RBIs.

John Parrish has made eight starts without a decision. The bad news is Bowie is 1-7 when he pitches. Wady Almonte, considered the best outfield arm in the system, has 11 assists.

Single-A Frederick

Pitcher Alvie Shepherd, a first-round draft pick in 1995, has been released. Shepherd underwent shoulder surgery and never regained his form. In three outings with the Keys, he was 0-2 with an 11.81 ERA. Overall, Shepherd won 16 and saved 10 in four years. Frederick is still alive for a Carolina League playoff spot, standing second to Lynchburg in the Northern Division. Wilmington won the first half. With Jayson Werth suffering a wrist injury, catcher Mike Lopez-Cao was sent to Bowie on a temporary basis. Ivanon Coffie was off to a slow start after being demoted, but went on a surge to climb to .311.

Single-A Delmarva

Good starting pitching has been the trademark of a young Shorebirds team, which is playing better after a horrendous first half. In one recent game, this year's first draft pick, Mike Paradis, opened with two scoreless, three-strikeout innings and was followed by South Atlantic League strikeout leader John Stephens, who threw six more innings of blanks with eight strikeouts.

In the last 16 games, the team has a 2.61 ERA but is only 8-8 due to a faulty bullpen and lack of punch. The surprise at the plate has been 24th-round draft pick Willie Harris, a leadoff man who batted .311 with 10 extra-base hits and 16 runs scored in 25 games.

Rookie league

A non-drafted player, Alex Gordon is tearing up the Gulf Coast League. He batted .424 with four homers over an eight-game span. Eliot Tomaszewski is second in the league with a 1.26 ERA.

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