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McDonald times it right

It’s not a reach to say that Darnell McDonald was relieved after belting a three-run homer. It’s not a reach to say that Darnell McDonald was relieved after belting a three-run homer. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)
By Nick Cafardo
July 3, 2011

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HOUSTON - Darnell McDonald has been through a lot of disappointments in his professional baseball career. And, boy, would he like to avoid another one.

After watching Mike Cameron get designated for assignment this week, it had to serve as a wake-up call to the 32-year-old outfielder. While the Red Sox brass understood that Cameron was blocking McDonald’s chances at regular playing time, when he did get his opportunities, mostly against lefthanders, it just wasn’t happening. And if it wasn’t happening against lefthanded pitching, then when could it happen?

And so the Sox have had their scouts looking and watching for a righthanded-hitting outfielder.

It’s something they’d rather not do because it would mean they would have to give up a prospect to get a decent bat. What they’d rather see is McDonald give them that righthanded option and call off the search, but he hasn’t given them any reason to do that.

But last night, he belted a towering three-run homer to left field in the eighth inning against lefty Fernando Abad.

A symbolic launching point for the rest of his season, McDonald hopes.

“It felt real good,’’ McDonald said. “Most of all, I’m happy we won the game. I know things are going to turn around for me. I’m working hard. I’ve been feeling good at the plate, but just haven’t been getting results. It feels good to get rewarded with a home run, but the main thing is getting something positive going and really keeping the same approach and give my team a quality at-bat. It’s a long season, a humbling game. Hopefully this gets me going.’’

McDonald, hitting .125, has a lot of fans inside the Sox clubhouse.

A day doesn’t go by that hitting coach Dave Magadan isn’t working overtime with him. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale is constantly offering encouragement and manager Terry Francona has remained patient with McDonald who, prior to the home run, was 4 for 36 against lefthanders.

Francona, who has been asked a lot about whether it’s simply best to just use Josh Reddick against lefties and righties, has always preached patience. There are times a player looks dreadful for a long time, but the patience seems to be repaid. McDonald had hit three balls fairly hard prior to the home runs, but they resulted in two fly outs to right and a double-play grounder.

The three-run homer wasn’t an overly important hit, as it stretched a 6-3 lead to 9-3. But it was important for McDonald.

“We certainly could have [played Reddick] today,’’ Francona said before the game. “But I really do want Mac to face some of these lefties because of what he can do and it gives us some balance on our bench. I want to see if we can get Mac hot. He spent all that time behind [Mike Cameron] and didn’t get at-bats. Then he goes and gets his rehab at Triple A and swung the bat great. Then he came back here and looked like he was going to swing the bat great and kind of went the other way. I want to get him going a little bit.’’

McDonald said he appreciates the support Francona has given him and hopes to repay him with good performances.

“You put your work in before the game and when the time comes, you try to put a good swing. I just haven’t gotten good results. I’ve been through ups and downs. Most importantly, I’m about winning games. I know things are going to turn around. The frustrating part is not coming through for my team.

“It definitely helps as a player to show that confidence in me. I said before, this game is tough when you’re playing every day and when you’re not it makes it tougher, especially when you’re not getting results. You press and you try to get it all in one at-bat. I’m really just trying to focus on pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat but that’s easier said than done.’’

He felt he had gone astray from what he is - a pure fastball hitter.

“I feel I’ve been in between the fastball and offspeed pitches. I’m really just focusing on getting back on the fastball and on things that I do best. If I do that, everything else will take care of itself,’’ McDonald said.

The Sox might still deal for a hitter. The possibilities range from Carlos Beltran and Jeff Francoeur to Ryan Ludwick and Jeff Baker, and even, who knows, maybe the Astros’ Hunter Pence?

McDonald will have to heat up quite a bit for the Sox to call that off.

But last night’s home run bought him time.

It offered Sox management some sign that McDonald isn’t a lost cause and that he is not an issue they have to deal with immediately, like they had to deal with Cameron a few days ago.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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