The veteran right-hander entered Spring Training on the heels of his worst season as a big league pitcher. MacDougal posted a 6.80 ERA last season, allowing 83 baserunners over 42 1/3 innings, and his struggles as the right-handed setup man shook the foundation of the entire bullpen.
Yet, as Cooper mentioned, the White Sox didn't waver from their belief of a MacDougal turnaround in 2008. Williams explained at SoxFest in January how MacDougal still had the electric stuff to succeed, and that his bout with right shoulder inflammation had become a malady of the past. Two appearances into Cactus League action, though, and MacDougal hasn't appeared to have righted the ship.
His 22.50 ERA ranks worst among White Sox pitchers having a shot to break camp with the team, and he has been touched for a home run in each game worked. According to Cooper, MacDougal seems to be operating under the worst-case scenario on the mound.
If something already hasn't gone wrong, fortunes might take a bad turn in the not too distant future.
"Mac is a little frustrated, and I understand it," Cooper said. "It's about lacking confidence, and it might take an outing or two where he gets them out and puts a zero on the board that untracks him. Right now, something goes wrong, and to a degree, it's like, 'Here we go again.'
"Without that conviction, that belief, that confidence, nobody is right. But we have a legitimate belief in this guy. We are not trying to talk him into being good. We know what he can do when he is right. Now, we just have to get him right."
Being that MacDougal is a "max effort guy," Cooper explained how the White Sox have tried to instill a more aggressive approach in the way he throws the ball, even when he is just playing catch. That same philosophy carries over to playing long toss and throwing side sessions.
Key bullpen additions such as Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel already have reduced MacDougal's role to middle relief, but the White Sox understand how a healthy and effective MacDougal could transform their bullpen into one of the best in the game. But what if MacDougal can't straighten out his game?
What if the two-run home run he allowed to Damon Hollins in the sixth inning of Monday's loss to the Royals becomes the spring norm instead of an early exception? Cooper said it's too early to start considering such scenarios, choosing instead to focus on the positive. For example, MacDougal threw his slider for strikes in Surprise and picked up three ground-ball outs.
Plenty of time still exists for MacDougal to regain confidence and avoid a trip back to the Minors to start the season.
"He's going to have to pitch his way off [the active roster]," Cooper said of MacDougal. "As far as locks, we just want him to be right.
"We've got to get back up on the horse every day, and we can't feel sorry for ourselves. He's only pitched twice, and it's just March 4. There will be plenty more opportunities and plenty of time to get his confidence back and get this right."