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Dodgers Make It 5 Straight : Hershiser, Bullpen Put Finishing Touch on Sweep of Braves

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

All right, so it was only the Atlanta Braves, who already are on a downward spiral in the National League West. So, it wasn’t a clear indication of what the Dodgers are capable of doing this season.

So what? Dodger players were saying.

Quality of competition was not a consideration for the Dodgers in determining the importance of their four-game sweep of the Braves, capped here Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 win behind continued solid pitching by Orel Hershiser and relief help from Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco.

“It doesn’t matter when or (whom),” first baseman Mike Marshall said. “We just go out there every game to win. There’s a lot of talent in the Western Division and, if you get down early in the season, it’s tough to come back.”

Some Dodgers are saying a fast start in the season’s first month, especially with 14 of the first 16 games against the Braves and Padres, is an essential confidence-builder for a successful season.

If that is the case, then the groundwork was laid here, courtesy of the still-winless Braves. After their opening-day loss to San Francisco, the Dodgers have won five straight games. It is the club’s longest winning streak since early August, 1986, when they won eight straight.

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“It was great to win them here,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “If you win in April, you don’t have to win them all in September.”

Excuse the Dodgers for presuming that their late-season games will mean something in the standings this season. They may be the contenders they say they are if they continue to play as they have the first week, against teams that don’t deserve to have “Born to Lose” emblazoned on their sleeves.

To dispose of the Braves on Sunday, the Dodgers used another powerful pitching effort by Hershiser, who had shut out the Giants in his first start last Tuesday.

This time, Hershiser took a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning, only to yield a leadoff single to Dion James and a run-scoring double to Gerald Perry on his 100th pitch. That ended Hershiser’s bid for bookend shutouts to open the season, as well as hope for his second complete game.

Lasorda called upon Howell, who had not left the sanctuary of the bullpen since the first game of the Freeway Series 10 days ago. Howell forced Andres Thomas to ground to second for the second out, Perry advancing to third. Then, Lasorda summoned Orosco, who struck out pinch-hitter Gary Roenicke by using only sliders to earn his second save.

Unlike Saturday night, when the Dodgers exploded for 11 runs, good pitching Sunday was imperative because runs were scarce.

The Dodgers pushed across an unearned run in the first inning, thanks to Steve Sax’s aggressive baserunning.

Sax knocked loser Rick Mahler’s first pitch up the middle for an apparent single, but surprisingly did not stop at first base. He noticed that Albert Hall, the Braves’ center fielder, wasn’t exactly rushing to retrieve the ball, so he tried for second. Hall’s throw was in time, but second baseman Damaso Garcia dropped it. Two batters later, Sax scored on Pedro Guerrero’s sacrifice fly.

“You like to see that,” Lasorda said. “You got to take chances.”

The Dodgers added a second run in the sixth on consecutive singles by Guerrero, Mike Marshall and Mike Davis, who gained his first run batted in as a Dodger. Two innings later, the Dodgers gave Hershiser a third run to work with in the eighth when Marshall’s single drove in Kirk Gibson, who had singled and notched his fourth stolen base in six games.

Hershiser hasn’t exactly been imbued with runs from Dodger hitters in his first two starts. He had only a 1-0 lead after 7 1/2 innings of his shutout against San Francisco and didn’t have much room for error on Sunday, either.

“We’re doing the things it takes to win,” Hershiser said. “We’re scoring enough runs. We’re making the (defensive) plays. We’re getting good pitching. Some games, we might have to work for runs. Some games, we can blow them out.”

Then, Hershiser smiled and added: “If I can get a shutout in half my starts and go 8 (innings) in the others, I’ll be all right.”

Hershiser has been more than all right in his two starts. Even without his best stuff Sunday, he was able to hold off the Braves, who were outscored, 25-9, in the four-game series. “I couldn’t get my curve down all game,” Hershiser said. “But I’ve learned to be more creative on the mound. That’s what got me through the outing.

“I’ve learned to take a little something off or (put) something on my fastball. That comes with maturity. I’m not afraid to take risks now, pitch more aggressively. Maybe in ’85 or when I was younger, I might have just tried to (pitch) harder and might have been out of there.”

The Dodgers’ defense, historically a contributor to some of Hershiser’s defeats, aided him this time.

Dodger center fielder John Shelby saved a run in the first inning by making a leaping catch, while slamming into the wall, of Dale Murphy’s blast with two outs and a runner on. And shortstop Alfredo Griffin spent the afternoon all over the field, barehanding three high choppers behind the mound, bailing out Guerrero on a pop-up behind third base and going to shallow center field to run down a blooper.

“I like to take care of everything,” Griffin said. “I’m not afraid to handle it. I’ll take charge.”

Griffin’s scope does not extend to the bullpen, of course. But so far, that questionable area has not failed the Dodgers. In a combined 12 innings of work, 6 Dodger relievers have not allowed a run.

Before Sunday, the Dodgers had not had an opportunity to use Howell, the right-handed short reliever.

“I’m glad to get it over with and get in there today,” Howell said. “I can’t remember the last time I pitched in a game. . . . I’m available whenever they need me. But as long as we win and I stay healthy, I don’t mind waiting.”

Dodger Notes

In recording his second save in as many opportunities, Dodger reliever Jesse Orosco threw six sliders and only one fastball to pinch-hitter Gary Roenicke, who was caught looking at a slow slider to end the game. Roenicke had batted in place of left-handed hitting Ken Oberkfell. “I went with my strength today,” Orosco said. “It could be my fastball one day; the slider the next. If Oberkfell had hit, I might have gone with all fastballs.” Manager Tom Lasorda, playing the percentages, replaced right-handed reliever Jay Howell after one batter to bring in Orosco, a left-hander, to face Oberkfell, who, in turn, was lifted for Roenicke, a right-handed hitter. In the process, it denied Howell a chance at his first save as a Dodger. "(Lasorda) hasn’t seen me enough, and I’m coming off (off-season) surgery,” Howell said. “The last thing I want to do is second-guess the manager. As long as we win, it doesn’t matter.” . . . Pitcher Ken Howell, on the disabled list while rehabilitating from off-season shoulder surgery, has suffered a minor setback. Howell said he felt considerable stiffness in his shoulder Sunday, two days after he last threw. Said physical therapist Pat Screnar: “It’s really nothing we are worried about.” . . . Former Dodger Tito Landrum, who cleared waivers earlier in the week, was signed by the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. The Orioles signed Landrum, who played for Baltimore in 1983, to the major league minimum of $62,500, which means the Dodgers will assume the balance of Landrum’s guaranteed $300,000 contract. . . . The Dodgers flew to San Diego Sunday night, where they will have an optional workout today and open a three-game series against the Padres Tuesday. . . . Executive Vice President Fred Claire, who had been hospitalized for two days with acute back spasms, accompanied the team on the charter flight.


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