Dodgers Hand Sutton His Walking Papers and Call Up Martinez

Times Staff Writer

Don Sutton, whose return to the Dodgers at 43 turned out to be more nostalgic than beneficial to the club, was released Wednesday.

Only Tuesday night, he lost his first start after spending five weeks on the disabled list--his first term there in his career--with a sprained right elbow.

Sutton, who has won 324 games in his 23 major league seasons, had a 3-6 record and a 3.92 earned-run average in 16 starts and had not won since May 14. Replacing Sutton in a revamped four-man starting rotation will be 20-year-old Ramon Martinez, who will join the team Friday in Los Angeles and pitch Saturday night. Struggling Shawn Hillegas will be moved to the bullpen and will pitch middle relief. Martinez, born in 1968, Sutton’s third major league season, posted a 5-2 record with a 2.76 ERA at triple-A Albuquerque. He pitched in Class A last season and began this season at double-A San Antonio.


The Dodgers apparently are considering trading for a veteran pitcher, too. A Dodger scout has been following left-hander Mike Flanagan of the Toronto Blue Jays, who earns $550,000 annually and will be a free agent after this season. But for the time being, Executive Vice President Fred Claire said, the Dodgers will go with Martinez, who throws a 93-m.p.h. fastball.

Sutton, appearing at a press conference in the team’s hotel before Wednesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, said he is unsure whether he will retire or try to play for another team this season.

But when reviewing his return engagement as a Dodger this season, Sutton talked as if this was the end of his career, in which he played 15 seasons for the Dodgers and had stints with Houston, Milwaukee, Oakland and the Angels.

“I would have liked this year and this relationship to end on a more successful note,” Sutton said. “I would have not wanted the injury, would have wanted more wins.

“I had one perfect scenario for the time somewhere near the end of my career. I would pitch seven perfect innings, then call out the manager and call in the infielders, hand them the ball and then get in my car and go home.”

Instead, Sutton’s celebrated Dodger career ended Tuesday night, when he allowed 5 earned runs (and 2 home runs) in 7 innings of a 6-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Knowing that the Dodgers are in a tight divisional race, Sutton said he was not surprised that the club made the move.


“I’ve always known it was a possibility, but it was not always in the forefront in my mind,” he said. “I think I can still pitch this year. I guess it depends on what becomes available.”

Claire said that Sutton was released because of his performance and because the Dodgers have several promising minor league pitchers.

“Last night had its place in the decision-making process,” Claire said. “If Don had pitched seven shutout innings, it would have been a factor in keeping him. . . . Don has given his best for five or six innings. It makes it tough on our bullpen, with a pitcher going five or six innings.”

With a contract laden with incentive bonuses, Sutton earned $580,000 up until the time of his release. If any team were to sign Sutton, after the waiver period has expired, it would have to pay only a small part of his $350,000 base salary.

“I still think I can pitch,” said Sutton, who has a 324-256 career record. “Whether I can or will be asked to, I don’t know. My plans are to catch the 7:11 flight home tonight. I’ll probably work out tomorrow, just because I like it so much.”

Claire said that Sutton’s recent inquiry about a post-career job with the Houston Astros, as reported Wednesday, was not a factor. Claire said Wednesday that, after discussing the matter with Sutton, he believes the pitcher did not break baseball’s conflict-of-interest rule.

“There was no formal meeting, and I think Don followed the guidelines,” Claire said. “If there was any misunderstanding, I’d take the responsibility. I’m confident Don did not stray beyond the line. It didn’t have a bearing on today’s move.”

When Claire announced the signing of Sutton on Jan. 5, it was perceived as a curious move by many. But Claire said he wanted the insurance of a veteran pitcher since the club had traded Bob Welch to Oakland.

The emergence of Tim Leary and Tim Belcher as capable starters apparently made Sutton expendable.

“I would do it again, do it in a minute,” Claire said of Sutton’s signing. “I knew the person I was dealing with and liked all the parts of that person and the personality. . . . There was a tremendous up side for the Dodger organization. “You look at Don’s record last year (with the Angels)--190 innings and 34 starts--and I thought it was a good move, that he could help us. I felt initially that Don would contribute even if it was only our young pitchers watching how he went through spring training. I have no reservations about it.”

Sutton, too, said he valued his time back with the Dodger organization, which first employed him from 1965 to 1980.

“It was a nice emotional experience to re-sign and come back here,” Sutton said. “The first time I put on the uniform and went out there was memorable.

“I will value my time here. It has always meant a lot to me to play with the Dodgers, in the tradition of great pitchers like (Sandy) Koufax and (Don) Drysdale. Number two, it was nice to be able to help the young and talented pitchers we have here. I’m going to miss them.”

As Sutton cleaned out his locker before Wednesday’s game, Claire announced Martinez’s recall from Albuquerque.

Martinez, voted the top major league pitching prospect by Florida State League managers last season, had an 8-4 record with a 2.46 ERA for double-A San Antonio when he was promoted to Albuquerque in June. He pitched a shutout against Las Vegas in his most recent start.

Although Claire has tried to downplay the comparison, the promotion of Martinez is reminiscent of Fernando Valenzuela’s emergence from the obscurity of double-A ball late in the 1980 season. Valenzuela, used as a reliever then, did not allow an earned run in 17 innings.

“It’s not fair to compare anyone to Fernando, especially the way he started,” Claire said. “But with Fernando and Ramon, you have two players who have an inner confidence that helps in a situation like this.”

Even with Martinez’s promotion, the Dodgers’ pitching situation appears far from settled. Claire has said he has scouts looking at veteran pitchers, and Mario Soto may be ready to pitch before long. Also, Valenzuela, on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain, may be ready to return by September.

“With the people we have now, we’ll go with the four-man rotation, then maybe Fernando or Soto can come back, and we’ll slip them in there,” pitching coach Ron Perranoski said.