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Dodger Notebook : Morgan Hopes to Become Fifth Starter

Special to The Times

Mike Morgan did his best to dodge the issue, but a slip of the tongue made it clear that he had his heart set on being the Dodgers’ fifth starting pitcher.

After the newly acquired right-hander had held the Montreal Expos scoreless in a three-inning stint Thursday, he was asked if he thought the starting job was his to win or lose.

“No, that’s not it,” Morgan said. “I do just as I’m told. If (Manager) Tom Lasorda tells me to start or pitch middle relief or whatever, that’s fine. I’m not out there to be a starter. I just want to get ready.”

A bit later, though, Morgan talked about how long he might pitch in his next outing, saying, “If I go four innings next time, that would probably be a good sign.”

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At that point, realizing that he had admitted what he had previously denied, Morgan flashed a big grin and turned to the side.

“I didn’t mean to say that,” he said. “But just in case, I have to throw a lot of fastballs to get my arm strength back. I’m about a week behind, because I didn’t pitch much with Baltimore before coming over here (for outfielder Mike Devereaux last Saturday). Normally, I would have gone five or six innings by now.”

In any event, it doesn’t take a baseball Einstein to figure out that Morgan is the Dodgers’ big hope to fill out a rotation that includes Orel Hershiser, Tim Leary, Tim Belcher and Fernando Valenzuela. As disappointing as Ramon Martinez has been, there can be no doubt that if Morgan fails, the Dodgers will face the necessity of making a deal.

It would be foolhardy to place great significance on one brief outing, yet Morgan’s performance gave the Dodgers their biggest lift to date in their search for a No. 5 man. In his second appearance as a Dodger--he had yielded one run in two innings in his debut--he yielded two harmless singles, struck out two batters and retired five on ground balls.

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The highlight for Morgan was a double-play ball to Tim Raines, one of the best hitters in baseball, in the eighth inning after Rex Hudler had led off with a single.

“I threw him a two-seam fastball that ran away from him,” Morgan said. “If the ball had stayed over the plate, he probably would have juiced it.

“Actually, I doubt if I could get away with that pitch during the regular season. He would probably just move up on the ball instead of laying back and trying to pull it.”

Batting for the first time since spring training a year ago, Morgan grounded out his only time up. Because the American League has the designated-hitter rule, he has yet to bat in a major league game.

“I can make contact,” he said. “But I really have to work on my bunting. If I happen to start, I can go seven to nine innings if I can get a bunt down. If I can’t bunt, it’s an automatic pinch-hitter, so I’m doing a lot of bunting.”

Judging from Morgan’s ineffective effort to flag down Jeff Huson’s grounder in the ninth, his fielding can also use a touch-up. The ball went past him for a hit.

“I was all tangled up on that play,” Morgan said. “One foot hit the other, and I almost spiked myself. I should have picked it up easily.”

Morgan was asked if he thought he had to prove himself after coming over from the American League with a 34-68 record, worst among active major league pitchers with 20 or more decisions.

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“No, they know what I can do,” he said. “People ask how come this guy can’t win, but that’s history now. I’m in the National League to start a new career.”

Tim Belcher became the first Dodger pitcher to go six innings, giving up five hits and two runs.

“I felt better about my curveball,” he said. “I want to make it a usable pitch this year, and this is the time to work on it. In the past, a 2-0 or 3-0 pitch was automatically fastball or slider.

“The curve will probably always be my fourth-best pitch (he also has a changeup), but I want the hitters to know about it. When a guy walks into the box and says, ‘This guy has four pitches,’ it’s a built-in advantage for you.”

Dodger Notes

The Dodgers’ squad was split Thursday, one winning and one losing. The stay-at-homes trampled the Montreal Expos, 13-2, and the others dropped an 8-7 marathon to the Atlanta Braves in 13 innings in West Palm Beach. . . . Eddie Murray hit his third home run of the spring in the home game. Dave Anderson hit a double and a triple, and said, “I can’t remember the last time I had five bases in one game. I’ll probably be three for the next 50.” Anderson also lobbied for a return to 25-man rosters, saying, “There’s enough money to go around.”

The lowly Braves gave rookie William Brennan a five-run pounding in three innings. They even cooled off shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who went one for four and dropped 29 points to .512. . . . Don Fehr, head of the players’ union, visited the Dodgers’ camp and sounded a note of gloom for next year. He said, “There is a resignation on the part of the players that the owners are going to lock them out.”


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