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In the Swing : Marshall Puts 12-Game Hitting Streak on Line Tonight

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Times Staff Writer

Bill Madlock, who started his professional career when Mike Marshall was a 10-year-old Little Leaguer, says he can’t recall anyone being more inseparable from his bat than his Dodger teammate.

“He hits a lot, probably more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Madlock said.

“When he’s in a slump, he hits and hits and hits. In the cage, under the stands, soft toss, off the tee. Hours and hours.

“I don’t believe in that stuff, but he does it all.”

Manny Mota, the Dodger batting coach and the man who probably has spent more hours watching Marshall hit than anyone in the organization, said he has talked to Marshall this spring about cutting down on the extra swings.

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“We don’t want him to get tired,” Mota said. “He really doesn’t need that much.

“When Mike’s in a groove, he hits anything, like he is now.”

The way Marshall is hitting now, he can save his pregame swings for some other month. Tonight, he brings a 12-game hitting streak with him into Shea Stadium, where the Dodgers open a three-game series with the Mets.

During that time, he is batting .327 (16 for 49), raising his average from .223 to .255. He’s hit five home runs, four in the last five games, has driven in 12, and has reached base 15 games in row.

His 12 home runs tie him with Hubie Brooks of the Montreal Expos for the National League lead, and his 35 runs batted in are second only to Brooks’ 38.

There is no Pedro Guerrero batting behind Marshall in the Dodger lineup. The team’s two left-handed power hitters, Franklin Stubbs and Greg Brock, have 10 home runs between them and have been batting as low as seventh and eighth in the order.

Against left-handed pitchers, Marshall is as conspicuous in the Dodger lineup as the brace on Guerrero’s leg. Marshall has twice as many home runs as the other seven right-handed hitters combined. Steve Sax, with three home runs this spring and a total of two in the previous two years, is the only other Dodger with more than two home runs in the lineup.

And yet without Guerrero or anybody else giving opposing pitchers a reason to throw Marshall anything resembling a strike, the Dodger right fielder, at age 26, is on a 44-home run, 129-RBI pace.

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“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Mota said, “if someday he wins the Triple Crown.

“At the beginning, he had a long swing. But now, Mike doesn’t try to loft every ball and hit it out of the park. Now, his swing is more compact, shorter, quicker, he’s quicker with his hands, and he’s waiting on the ball better.

“He’s not chasing as many bad pitches. And with two strikes, he’s not the same type hitter. He doesn’t take that hard swing. He concentrates on making contact.”

Of course, Marshall still strikes out, 40 times in the first 42 games. But so do Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker.

“I don’t think there are going to be those stretches of two weeks of him not doing anything,” Madlock said, referring to Marshall slumps in the past. “He’s able to cope with it a lot better mentally.”

Madlock and Mota, of course, wear the same uniform as Marshall. The three scouts talking about Marshall in the Dodger Stadium press dining room the other day do not.

Grady Hatton scouts for the San Francisco Giants, Hank King for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Dee Fondy for the Milwaukee Brewers. All three have been impressed by what they’ve seen this spring.

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“He’s become more selective as a hitter,” Hatton said. “He’s a free swinger, and he’ll take advantage of every mistake you make. Make a mistake, and he’ll kill you.

“He’s still having trouble laying off the high bad pitch. Against certain right-handed pitchers, they’re going to get him out because he’s a free swinger.”

Fondy said he has been watching Marshall since he was playing for the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team at Albuquerque.

“I’ve always said he’s a big Steve Garvey,” Fondy said. “He has the same makeup and goals that Garvey had.

“He doesn’t have the same personality, and I don’t mean that detrimentally, but I just think Marshall knows he wants to be as successful a baseball player as Steve Garvey has been, and that’s not a bad set of goals to set for yourself to achieve.”

For King, another name comes to mind. “Marshall is the same kind of guy like Schmidt,” he said. “He can get on a tear and carry a club.

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“Another thing that is overlooked,” King said, “is that he’s become a pretty good outfielder.”

Hatton concurred. “He can throw, and he’s not afraid to hit the wall, either.”

Fondy: “To me, he’s improved his running speed by one step from home to first base.”

There is one aspect of Marshall’s game, however, that makes these scouts cringe.

“The thing that scares me,” Hatton said, “is that when they throw a ball inside on him, he freezes.”

Marshall has been seriously beaned once, by Montreal’s Jeff Reardon, and has been hit by a pitch 17 times, four times already this season.

“I don’t know if it’s that he freezes,” Fondy said, “as he’s just slow to get out of there.”

Hatton: “Just like Carl Furillo. He used to drive into a pitch just like Marshall does.”

So how do you pitch Marshall right now? You don’t.

“Anybody’s going to try to pitch around him,” Fondy said. “He’s the one guy in the lineup who can beat you with a key hit.”

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