Dodgers : After a Winter in Mexico, Leary’s Pitching Comes Back Strong
A guy looking a lot like Tim Leary walked onto the Holman Stadium turf early Saturday, making Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda stop lecturing someone and start staring.
“Tim, is that you?” Lasorda asked, facetiously. “Nice to see you. When did you get in town? This guy’s been here 10 days, and he hasn’t even said five words to me.”
Leary is paid to pitch, not talk. After a disappointing first season with the Dodgers in 1987, going 3-11 with a 4.76 earned-run average, mostly as a long reliever, he has returned to spring training with a smoother delivery and considerably more confidence than a year ago.
After watching Leary pitch two impressive innings in a Dodger intra-squad game Saturday, pitching coach Ron Perranoski also didn’t recognize Leary.
“He looked like a different guy to me,” Perranoski said. “From last year to right now, his delivery is freer. He’s coming more over the top and not pushing the ball. Also, his velocity was good.”
Leary’s goal this spring is to earn a place in the starting rotation, something that eluded him last season after coming to the Dodgers in the Greg Brock trade. As of today, it would appear that Alejandro Pena and Leary are the front-runners for the club’s fourth and fifth starting spots, while prospects Tim Belcher and Shawn Hillegas would return to Albuquerque for more experience.
Of his 32 pitches, Leary threw 21 strikes, including striking out Franklin Stubbs and Mariano Duncan. He allowed two hits, both ground balls that went under third baseman Tracy Woodson’s glove.
Though the first outing of the spring is by no means an accurate barometer of ability, Leary was happy with his effort. During the off-season, he posted a 9-0 record with a 1.24 ERA for Tijuana in the Mexican League while trying to correct flaws in his pitching mechanics.
“Part of my problem was mechanics, and part of it was lack of strength last season,” Leary said. “I know I needed to pitch winter ball to build up my arm strength and work on my pitches.
“Last spring was just terrible. I couldn’t get much arm strength because I didn’t work out much during the off-season. I learned I can’t do that. I have to play winter ball to keep in shape and work on things. I can’t take more than two or three weeks off at a time now.
“Because by the time I got my strength last year, it was the middle of the season. By then, I couldn’t get in a groove or get my confidence.”
Posting impressive winter statistics, even if it was in Tijuana, helped Leary’s confidence. Perranoski has noticed that Leary’s tendency to drop his shoulder during his delivery, which adversely affected him last season, has been corrected.
“I didn’t see him pitch during winter ball, but I heard he was doing well and had worked on his problems,” Perranoski said. “He said to me that the competition isn’t as keen as major league hitters. But I said, ‘Timmy, you won 9 games and had 12 complete games. Regardless of the competition, you got stronger and got to know yourself.’ ”
Leary, not the most talkative Dodger, hopes his performance gets Lasorda’s attention.
“I want to be a starter,” Leary said. “That’s my goal. The only thing I go by is what I read and hear. That seems to tell me I’m up against the same thing as last year. The pressure will always be on to prove yourself every time out, even in the spring. It’ll probably be like that every day in the season, too. But it’s like that for everyone.”
The Dodgers shut out themselves in Saturday’s six-inning intra-squad game. The teams combined for only eight hits, and catcher Mike Scioscia foiled the only scoring chance by tagging out Danny Heep at home plate. Mike Sharperson had lofted a single to shallow right field, and Mike Marshall made a two-bounce throw to Scioscia, who blocked the plate with his usual expertise. . . . Perhaps one reason for the Dodgers’ weak offensive showing was the absence of Pedro Guerrero, Kirk Gibson and Steve Sax, all of whom were given the day off. . . . Don Sutton, Brad Havens, 19-year-old Ramon Martinez and non-roster pitchers Mike Pitz and Jose Tapia each pitched well during two innings of work Saturday. But, as expected, pitching coach Ron Perranoski downplayed the significance of the performances. “It can go nothing but downhill from here,” Perranoski cracked. “All the pitchers threw strikes, and there were some good defensive plays. A couple of balls might have gone out (for home runs) if it had been windy. But the guys looked good.”
Havens, using a screwball he picked up from “messing around in the dugout” late last season with Fernando Valenzuela, struck out Jose Gonzalez, Mike Devereaux and Mariano Duncan. “I threw eight screwballs, and I think it’s going to help me a lot this year. I did better than I expected with it in the Dominican (winter league), and I feel more comfortable using it than my curveball when I get behind in the count. I have a good curve, but I’ve had problems trying to get it over. It gives me peace of mind to be able to go to (the screwball).” . . . Duncan, trying to win the second base job, struck out twice and grounded to second. . . . Jeff Hamilton, trying to win the third base job from Sax, hit a warning-track fly ball and made a diving stop on a grounder at third base. . . . Sutton on facing live (well, almost) hitters for the first time this spring: “It was exercise. I don’t get excited over many things, but I still enjoy my work. I didn’t get any of my guys hurt and I didn’t get hurt. It was a productive day.” . . . The Dodgers will play another six-inning intra-squad game today. Maybe someone will score this time. Scheduled pitchers are Tim Belcher, Shawn Hillegas, Brian Holton, Tim Crews, William Brennan and Ron Davis.