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Gibson Says He Might Not Start Opener

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

First, it was tendinitis in his right knee. Then, a weeklong bout with the flu. Now, a sore right shoulder. Is this any way to prepare for opening day?

Of course not. Which is why Kirk Gibson, for the first time, expressed doubts on Sunday that he’ll be ready when the Dodgers open the season a week from today in Cincinnati.

“I’m a skeleton of myself,” said Gibson after dragging himself through five innings of the Dodgers’ 5-4 victory over Atlanta Sunday, which was only Gibson’s second exhibition appearance of the spring. “The drive’s there, except there ain’t no go. . . . I can’t tell you where I’ll be next Monday.”

After watching Gibson twice strike out weakly against Braves left-hander Zane Smith and tap to second base in his last at-bat, the Dodgers aren’t sure, either, where Gibson will be in a week. Depending on how quickly he recovers in the next three days, the team is even contemplating letting Gibson remain behind here--among other options--when they break camp Wednesday afternoon.

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“After today, he’s got me worried now,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “When he played last Sunday against the Astros, I thought that he was back. But then the flu hit him and set him back a week. I thought this week I could put him through double workouts, get him 10 at-bats a day, but now his shoulder’s bothering him.”

Actually, Gibson said the shoulder was bothering him a week ago when he played, but then he aggravated it during batting practice Sunday. Dr. Frank Jobe is describing the condition as soreness, but will re-examine him today. The flu, meanwhile, left him feeling miserable.

“I can’t say I feel like running hard,” he said. “I didn’t feel good swinging. I didn’t feel good physically, period.

“I’m a little ticked off with the whole situation. I’m not real happy about it. I’m very frustrated about it. . . . I’m just not in good shape to play.”

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That was equally apparent to Executive Vice President Fred Claire, who said the Dodgers discussed a range of moves they could make with Gibson at their nightly staff meeting Sunday.

“The next two or three days will be very important to our evaluation,” Claire said. “If his shoulder remains sore and he’s not able to take much batting for the next three days, then we’ve reached a critical point.

“I’m not going to ask Kirk to do something he’s not comfortable doing. If he says, ‘I cannot go out there and perform,’ then we can’t ask him to do that.

“Will he be better off being with the team? Will he be ready in a day or two, or a week to 10 days? Our options are too numerous--I’m not going to get into all the variations.

“Our thoughts are to have Kirk Gibson play opening day. That remains my goal and I know it’s Kirk’s goal. Whether it becomes realistic or not, we’ll have to see day to day.”

If Gibson isn’t ready, Lasorda said Mike Davis will be his starting left fielder against the Reds. Davis, who came into Sunday’s exhibition game batting .189, had three hits against the Braves, including a pop-fly double in the ninth inning that preceded Mickey Hatcher’s game-winning pinch hit.

“You can see how (Gibson’s) hurting now,” Davis said. “That flu is a killer. For him to try and go play that game today shows he’s made of blood and guts. That cat is raw. Most folks wouldn’t have even attempted to go out there today.

“That brother’s raw. I like that.”

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And despite his low batting average, Davis said he’s happy with the spring he’s having, and welcomed the chance to learn a new position, left field.

“If I wasn’t hitting the ball at all, that would be something else,” Davis said. “But I’ve been hitting the ball hard.”

Still, the prospect of starting the 1989 season without the league’s most valuable player is not a happy one for the Dodgers.

“Fortunately, we have the depth that we can replace him for a short time,” said catcher Rick Dempsey. “But I wouldn’t like to think about him not being part of the club. He generates so much energy, he’s so aggressive and intimidating.

“But it’s been one thing after another for him--the knee, being sick, the shoulder. One thing we’re all subjected to, like original sin, is pain. You’ve got to play with it.”

Dodger Notes

Orel Hershiser, another of the Dodgers’ long list of flu victims, will miss a turn today against the New York Mets after checking in with a fever of 102 degrees Sunday. Outfielder Mike Marshall, out since last Tuesday with the flu, may be available for light workouts Monday, according to Dodger trainers; the same holds true for relief pitcher Jay Howell. . . . Tim Belcher went seven strong innings Sunday, allowing four hits--including a home run to Ron Gant--and striking out six in seven innings. Belcher also had strong words of support for pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. “Things are starting to look a lot less uncertain with Fernando,” Belcher said. “I think he’s getting progressively better. I wouldn’t be concerned unless he shows something else when we start playing for real. He’s so damn competitive, if he feels good physically, I hope he has a good year. I think he can.” . . . Tracy Woodson had two more hits Sunday in an impressive, albeit probably futile, effort to stave off a demotion to Albuquerque.


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