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Guerrero’s Single Is Enough to Beat Braves

Times Staff Writer

If Pedro Guerrero was trying to swat away unpleasant memories of the early part of 1985, like so many of the high, hard fastballs he has seen lately, he did not say so Thursday night.

But reminders of how playing third base that year had adversely affected his hitting were plentiful.

Before Guerrero stepped to the plate for the Dodgers in a key situation against Atlanta reliever Jim Acker--bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game--he had managed only an infield single in nine at-bats during the first three games of the season.

And earlier Thursday, he had twice failed to drive in Kirk Gibson from second base.

This time, however, Guerrero slapped a hanging slider into left field, bringing home two of the three Dodger runs and triggering a 5-2 win over the still-winless Braves before 5,257 fans at Fulton County Stadium.

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Guerrero’s late-inning intervention was welcomed by the Dodgers, whose only other offense Thursday was supplied by Mike Marshall. But the pitching of starter Don Sutton, who gave up 2 runs (1 earned) in 5 innings, and relievers Alejandro Pena, who earned the win, and Jesse Orosco, who got the save, kept the Dodgers in contention all night.

So, even though Guerrero is a mere 2 for 10 without an extra-base hit in the season’s infancy, he is not worried. He said playing third base is no offensive hindrance. But he confessed that he is concerned about his chronically sore left wrist, an unpleasant memory from late in the 1985 season that will not go away.

After Tuesday night’s game in Los Angeles, Guerrero received his first cortisone injection in the wrist since ’85, in hopes of dulling the pain while at the same time pumping life into his hitting.

“I feel better after the shot, but there’s still a little pain,” Guerrero said. “During spring, I told (the Dodger medical staff) that if it kept up bothering me, I was going to get it shot during the season. I didn’t want to go through the things I did the previous two seasons.

“You’ll notice it hurts when I can’t pull the ball with power. When I swing through, I try to protect the wrist by bringing my top hand over. I was afraid to hurt the wrist. That has kept me from hitting balls out that used to be home runs.”

Guerrero hasn’t been the only Dodger slugger to struggle in the early going. The offense, touted to be explosive, has had to cultivate runs by passively moving runners over and slapping singles to bring them home. But a few members of Manager Tom Lasorda’s so-called “Awesome Fivesome” emerged Thursday.

Gibson doubled, walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored two runs. Marshall had three hits and two runs batted in. And even though Guerrero had been 0 for 4 before his ninth-inning hit, he launched a 400-foot fly ball to the wall in center field.

“I’m not really concerned,” Guerrero said about his slow start and transition to third base. “You’re going to have good days and bad days. Early in the game, I had a bad day, except for that ball to center. I’m not the kind of guy who gets down after going 0 for 2 or 0 for 3. I’ll have the same type of enthusiasm. I know I can hit.”

The Dodgers look at their lineup and they assume an offensive harvest is forthcoming. Soon. It hasn’t happened yet, but they have managed to win two of their first three games without it.

Of the Dodgers’ eight hits against the Braves’ shaky pitching staff, Gibson’s double was the only one for extra bases. In the decisive ninth-inning rally, they used singles by Guerrero and Marshall, augmented by a walk, an intentional walk and a hit batter.

“As I told the players in the (pregame) meeting, I’m proud of the way we have been manufacturing runs,” Lasorda said. “And I told the pitchers to be patient, that they’ll eventually get the runs for you.”

The 43-year-old Sutton, making his first start as a Dodger since 1980, kept the Dodgers within striking distance into the sixth inning, which is basically all the Dodgers ask of him. In the third, Sutton gave up an unearned run, which was made possible by center fielder John Shelby’s dropped fly ball after a miscommunication with right fielder Mike Davis. The veteran pitcher departed with runners at first and third and one out in the sixth. Brad Havens, who came on in relief of Sutton, gave up a warning-track fly ball that scored the Braves’ second run but avoided further damage.

Pena pitched two strong innings, giving up only two infield singles in the eighth. Although Pena says his preference is to start, he continues to pitch well in relief. He had 11 saves last season and figures get a lot of work as a set-up man for Orosco and Jay Howell this season. Orosco made his much-anticipated debut as this season’s answer to the Dodgers’ perennial left-handed short relief dilemma, and unlike predecessors Carlos Diaz, Ed Vande Berg and Matt Young, he recorded a save in his first opportunity.

After striking out Dion James on a slider for the final out, Orosco punctuated his effort with a raised fist. Afterward, Orosco admitted to being nervous.

“Since Dec. 16, when they made the trade, I’ve been wondering what the first outcome would be,” Orosco said. “I told myself when the trade happened, I hope I do something right away. This is a good chance now to establish myself again.”

Orosco and other Dodger pitchers are giving the established hitters the benefit of the doubt, saying that the long-awaited offensive windfall will come.

“We’re going to score some runs--that’s a given,” Sutton said. “If we, as starting pitchers, don’t beat ourselves, we’re going to win.”

Dodger Notes

After three games, some less than awe-inspiring facts about Manager Tom Lasorda’s self-proclaimed “Awesome Fivesome:” John Shelby is 0 for 9, Mike Davis 1 for 9 after an infield single Thursday, Kirk Gibson 1 for 9 after a double Thursday, Pedro Guerrero 2 for 10 after a two-run single Thursday and Mike Marshall 3 for 11, getting all 3 hits Thursday. Said Marshall: “I think everybody might have been pressing a little in Los Angeles (in the first series). Everybody wants to help the ballclub. We’ll start to relax. But our goal is to win, and we’ve won two out of three.” . . . Don Sutton’s evaluation of his first Dodger start: “I didn’t cause us to lose, and I gave us a chance to win. I think I made good pitches with men on base, but I had too many men on base.” . . . Sutton’s four strikeouts Thursday tie him for fourth place with Gaylord Perry on the all-time major league strikeout list with 3,534 . . . Atlanta starter Pete Smith, who was 3 months old when Sutton made his initial Dodger debut in 1966, gave up only 2 runs and 5 hits in 7 innings but got a no-decision. Paul Assenmacher, who loaded the bases in the ninth inning before Jim Acker was summoned, was the loser . . . Orel Hershiser, who pitched a three-hit shutout Tuesday night, awoke Wednesday with a sty in the inner part of his right eye. The condition worsened Thursday morning, and the sty was removed in the afternoon. Hershiser still is expected to start Sunday against the Braves. He will not be allowed to wear contact lenses until Sunday. . . . Ken Howell, on the disabled list during rehabilitation from off-season shoulder surgery, did not pitch a simulated game Thursday, as scheduled. The Dodgers said Howell’s shoulder has not regressed and that he probably will throw today. . . . Bart Giamatti, president of the National League, was in attendance at the game. He met with reporters and talked about the emphasis on the balk rule, among other subjects. Giamatti stressed that the rule has simply been clarified, not changed, so that umpires in both leagues make sure pitchers come to a discernible stop with their hands before beginning the delivery. “There were different interpretations in each league, and we wanted a uniform interpretation,” Giamatti said. After two balks were called on Giant pitchers Tuesday night against the Dodgers, Giant Manager Roger Craig sarcastically said that he would tell his pitchers to stay in a set position for 30 seconds, “so that the game lasts four hours.” Giamatti’s response to Craig’s threat: “With a man as well-versed and intelligent as Roger Craig, I can’t imagine he would do anything like that.” Giamatti also said that he will not accept any allegedly corked bats or scuffed balls from teams. “Only umpires will be allowed to request us to check a bat or ball,” Giamatti said. “We’ve sent a bulletin out on that. I’m tired of receiving a bouquet of bats from front-office personnel.”


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