Dodger Notebook : Howell Puts Problems Behind Him

Times Staff Writer

While most of the Dodgers contemplate a rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant, Ken Howell is pointing toward the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That's right, the Pirates, the team with the worst record in baseball, losers of 104 games in 1985.

"I love to play the Pirates," Howell said. "I can't wait to strike out my roommate, and you can print that, too."

Howell's roommate is R.J. Reynolds, or at least was until last August, when the Dodgers sent Reynolds and Sid Bream to Pittsburgh for third baseman Bill Madlock.

Parting was sweet for Reynolds, an extra outfielder with the Dodgers who blossomed in September with the Pirates. He had two nine-game hitting streaks, stole 12 bases in 14 tries, and batted .308 in 31 games.

Howell, on the other hand, had a September to forget, giving up five home runs and running up an earned-run average of 8.78 in the last four weeks of the season.

By that time, he had been all but forgotten by Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, who used Howell for just two innings of mop-up relief in the National League playoffs. When Jack Clark hit his pennant-winning home run off Tom Niedenfuer, Howell was anchored to his seat in the Dodger bullpen.

Howell's problem, the Dodgers contend, is the width of that seat, one reason mischievous teammates pilfered the "Wide Load" sign from a trailer truck and put it above Howell's locker here.

Howell reported to training camp at 231 pounds, 21 more than he says he would like to carry into this season. But although he's the Dodgers' most dedicated weight-watcher of the spring--he's already down to 224, thanks to a diet of fruit for breakfast, eight glasses of water and one meal a day--Howell is more concerned with streamlining his delivery.

"At the top of my windup, my legs shot out, and then I was rushing everything, pitching across my body," Howell said. "That's why I was so inconsistent.

"My foot would land to the right side of the mound and I'd have to throw my hips and everything else to the left.

"I never had real good mechanics, but I'd always been blessed with a real strong arm."

Howell, who went from Class A Vero Beach to the major leagues in less than three seasons, had never encountered the kind of slump he endured last fall.

"It was different," he said. "I'd gone through the minor leagues so fast, I came into the major leagues and was pretty successful. All of a sudden, I had these bad moments, and how do you handle that?"

This spring, he's starting by landing right on his foot. He's also experimenting with a changeup, that he showed during two innings of pitching in Monday's intrasquad game, during which he struck out three batters.

"I know I can pitch a lot better than I did last September," Howell said. "I think I showed that in the first five months. That last month just jumped on my back. It's just something I have to forget.

"I know I'll have another slump, but it won't be as long, because I'll know how to handle it."

While Rick Honeycutt's wife, Debbie, was filming the proceedings with a video camera, the pitcher was hit hard in the intrasquad game, giving up six hits and two runs in two innings.

"I'm doing a couple of things differently," said Honeycutt, explaining why he wanted a videotape of his outing. "I'm trying to use my legs and body a little more. I picked up some bad habits last year that put a lot of stress and strain on the front side of my shoulder.

"I'm trying to use my back leg more to get a better shoulder rotation. My main concern now is going out and throwing comfortably."

Orel Hershiser, who missed Sunday's workout because of a back spasm, retired all six batters he faced Monday. Franklin Stubbs, who is being given another chance to challenge Greg Brock for the first-base job, had four RBIs.

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