GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The professional baseball career of Mike MacDougal has seen better days. Much better days, in fact. Like when he was an All-Star closer for the Kansas City Royals eight years ago. Like when he fell on hard times the next season, but bounced back a year later to not only reclaim the role he had lost, but to once again excel in it.
Fast-forward to now, and the veteran right-hander appeared to be clinging to his baseball life after he signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers this winter. But unlike a lot of the pitchers the club has in camp this spring, the Dodgers plan to take a long, hard look at MacDougal -- and to give him every chance of being on their active roster when the season begins.
So far, the lanky right-hander certainly hasn't hurt his cause. He came on to pitch the fifth inning of the Dodgers' Cactus League game on Thursday night -- a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds before 4,012 at Goodyear Ballpark -- and retired big league veterans Miguel Cairo, Scott Rolen and Jonny Gomes in order without a ball leaving the infield.
In two appearances this spring, MacDougal has faced the minimum without allowing a hit, his only hiccup a one-out walk to the Los Angeles Angels' Reggie Willits on Sunday that was quickly erased when Mike Trout grounded into a double play.
"The ball is coming out of his hand very good," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He has done everything we have asked of him. He is trying to make a couple of adjustments we talked about, and he has bought into it. ... We just wanted to slow him down and keep him more on his line a little bit better [in his delivery], because he had a tendency to peel out a little bit."
Since his salad days in Kansas City, MacDougal, who will turn 34 on Saturday, has battled shoulder injuries and ineffectiveness, spending at least some time in Triple-A each of the past three seasons -- each of the past five seasons if you count medical rehabs -- and the Dodgers are his fifth organization in the past two years. But the Dodgers, who routinely sign a lot of pitchers to minor league contracts for the sole purpose of adding organizational pitching depth at Triple-A Albuquerque, didn't sign MacDougal for that reason at all.
Instead, their hope is MacDougal will be a serious candidate to make the club and be a reliable middle reliever. Presently, he is one of a half-dozen or so pitchers who have a legitimate shot at what are probably three open spots in the bullpen, and at the risk of jumping to a hasty conclusion so early in spring training, he appears at the moment to be a clear favorite to land one of those spots.
"In the past, he obviously had tremendous stuff," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, a coach with the New York Yankees when MacDougal was the Royals closer. "I saw him in Kansas City, and he was always tough. He just has that power stuff that you like to see."
Enter at your own risk
For players who have little to no shot at making the Opening Day roster, a chance to play in these early Cactus League games in front of the big league staff would seem to be an opportunity to at least make an impression for later. But in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department, the outfield trio of Trent Oeltjen, Jamie Hoffmann and Trayvon Robinson probably wished they could have been anywhere else but where they were in the seventh inning, facing fireballing Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman, he of the 105 mph fastball.
Oeltjen was the first to step in, and as luck would have it, Chapman's first delivery came in over the plate but about head-high -- so high, in fact that it went over the mitt of catcher Corky Miller, barely missed plate umpire Tony Randazzo and wound up hitting the wall on the fly.
"If that had been at my face, I probably wouldn't have had time to move," said the left-handed-hitting Oeltjen, who had entered the game in right field two innings earlier and was batting for the first time. "Definitely, when you're coming off the bench and that's the first pitch you see, it wakes you up. He is one of the hardest throwers in the game, and he's a left-hander."
Predictably, Oeltjen and Hoffmann struck out. Robinson got wood on the ball, but grounded out to first to end a perfect inning for Chapman.
"I thought I had a good pass to the ball," Robinson said. "But I wasn't sure I hadn't broken my hand."
Lilly bounces back
Dodgers pitcher Ted Lilly, who was supposed to make his Cactus League debut on Wednesday but instead had to be scratched because of flu-like symptoms, finally did take the mound in a "B" game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday morning, throwing two perfect innings and making 27 pitches against an assortment of White Sox minor leaguers.
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Lilly will start again on three days' rest against the Colorado Rockies on Monday to keep the rest of the rotation on schedule, but that he will be monitored closely because of the short turnaround time.
"He may be an inning behind the other guys for a little while, but he'll eventually catch up," Honeycutt said.
So you're telling me there's a chance
On Thursday the Dodgers held their annual open tryout in which any ballplayer can come to the fields and attempt to earn a minor league contract. Out of the 110 or so players who showed up, one walked away with a job as the Dodgers signed left-handed pitcher Randy Keisler, who has pitched in 55 big league games for the Yankees (2000-01), Padres (2003), Reds (2005), A's (2006) and Cardinals (2007). The Dodgers signed two players out of the tryout in both 2009 and 2010, including right-handed pitcher Tim Corcoran, who is still in the organization.
Rubby De La Rosa, the Dodgers' reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year, retired five of six batters and faced the minimum over the final two innings on the night before his 22nd birthday. De La Rosa made eight starts, going 3-1 with a 1.41 ERA, following a late-season promotion last year to Double-A Chattanooga, where he probably will return to begin 2011. ... The Dodgers (2-5) will host the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, when right-hander Jon Garland is scheduled to make his first start of the spring. He will be opposed by veteran lefty Barry Zito.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter. Jon Weisman contributed to this report.