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Leary’s Bat Ailing, but Arm Isn’t in 2-1 Win Over Astros

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Like many of his struggling teammates, Tim Leary promises the hits will come.

But while the Silver Bat he won as baseball’s best hitting pitcher last season may be looking a little tarnished so far in a hitless 1989, Leary’s pitching has remained golden for the Dodgers.

For the second time in three starts, Leary lost a shutout in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, but the Dodger right-hander struck out Houston power source Glenn Davis with the tying and winning runs on base to complete a five-hit, 2-1 victory over the Astros before 39,520 in Dodger Stadium.

“They’re pitching me tougher this year,” Leary said with a smile, explaining his lack of a hit in seven at-bats this season.

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As Manager Tom Lasorda is fond of saying, the Dodgers have been making most pitchers look like Cy Young this season, and for seven of eight innings, Sunday was no exception.

But Mike Marshall opened the fourth inning with his third home run of the series, Mickey (one for 14) Hatcher tripled with two out and Jeff (no hits in 16 at-bats) Hamilton doubled him home.

Those two runs were all the Dodgers mustered against Jim Deshaies and reliever Larry Andersen, but they were enough to give the Dodgers a split of their series against the Astros, one in which both teams scored just nine runs apiece in 42 innings.

Marshall, batting in the No. 3 spot, was responsible for most of the Dodger production. He had seven hits in the series, raising his average to .361, and drove in four runs. His four home runs this season also account for half of the team’s total of eight. Kirk Gibson and Eddie Murray, with two apiece, have the others.

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“The type of hitter I am, and Gibson and Murray, too, I hate to say it, but we’re all streaky hitters,” said Marshall, who credits his first winter of weight training for his fast start this season. “These things come in streaks.”

For Hatcher, things tend to come face first, like his belly-flop slide into third base on his triple, a slide that began somewhere between the bag and Pomona.

“They were rating me in the dugout,” Hatcher said. “I got a couple of 8’s and a 9. They were telling me I got my flaps down, that I have to get them up a little bit.”

And how did Hatcher rate his first extra-base hit of the season?

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“Painful,” he said. “Luckily, my face hit the base. Usually my nose plows the basepath.”

Hamilton, given the day off on Saturday, seemed to be digging himself another hole when he struck out swinging at a bad ball in the second inning.

“That first at-bat was ugly,” he said. “But it’s hard to take a walk when you want to hit the ball so bad. It was stupidity on my part.”

The double he lashed down the line to score Hatcher made Hamilton feel a whole lot smarter, not to mention relieved. For the first time, Hamilton has started a season as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman, and he admitted to pressing to prove he was deserving.

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“With the whole team struggling, you can’t say do it all yourself, but you’ve got to get some hits here and there,” Hamilton said.

Houston’s hits were hard to come by off Leary, who took a two-hitter into the ninth, faced the minimum three batters in seven innings, did not walk a man and struck out six. Until the ninth, the only Astro hitter to reach second base was Billy Hatcher, and he was thrown out stealing third by catcher Mike Scioscia.

Ken Caminiti, however, opened the ninth with a single. A foul out and force play had the Astros down to their final out, but Rafael Ramirez flared a single to right and Billy Hatcher bounced a ball through the left side, scoring a run and bringing Davis to the plate.

Lasorda, who sent pitching coach Ron Perranoski to the mound after Ramirez’s at-bat, elected to stay with Leary, a decision that had the second-guessers salivating when Davis jumped all over a split-fingered fastball and hit a long foul down the left-field line.

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But finally, with the count full after Davis fouled off four more pitches--all fastballs--Leary blew a fastball by him to end the game.

“I usually hit those pitches--I was just missing them, which is what was so frustrating,” said Davis, who came into the game hitting .429 against Leary but struck out three times Sunday.

Leary put Davis’ past success against him in perspective. “That’s counting 1987 stats,” he said, referring to his first, misbegotten season with the Dodgers, when he went 3-11 and had fans clamoring for the return of Greg Brock, the man for whom he was traded.

Now, however, after a 17-victory season in 1988, Leary has as many wins (two) as Orel Hershiser, even though he has spotted the .333-hitting Hershiser a huge head start in the Silver Bat derby.

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“Yeah, but I’ve had a couple of good bunts,” said Leary, who had one sacrifice Sunday. “And the bunts are most important.”

The way the Dodgers are hitting, they may be the best weapon the team has.

“But we’re scoring runs when our pitching’s been good,” Mickey Hatcher said, “and that’s important. Right now, the staff has been great, but later on, when maybe they’re struggling, we’ll pick them up.”

Dodger Notes

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Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, who came out of his start Saturday with a twinge in his right elbow, was examined Sunday by team doctor Ralph Gambardella, who found nothing suspect, according to team officials. Hershiser is scheduled to make his next start Friday against San Francisco. . . . Kirk Gibson, who for the moment is the league’s most valuable defensive replacement, did not start for the second consecutive game. Gibson replaced Mickey Hatcher in left field in the top of the eighth, and batted in the bottom, popping out. Gibson almost certainly will start tonight against Cincinnati, according to Manager Tom Lasorda. . . . Willie Randolph had two singles, raising his batting average to .245, and also stole a base on his first attempt as a Dodger. Randolph was batting in the No. 2 spot behind Mariano Duncan, who replaced Alfredo Griffin at shortstop. Lasorda said he was just giving Griffin a day off and he’ll be back in the lineup tonight. Duncan had one hit, a single, but struck out with one out and Mike Scioscia on third in the third. . . . John Shelby made the game’s outstanding defensive play with a diving catch of Alan Ashby’s liner in the eighth. . . . Mike Marshall said his weight lifting program, which has added 15 pounds to his frame, has contributed significantly to his play so far. “I had run out of ideas about what to do for my back,” said Marshall, who said his back hasn’t been 100% since it first began bothering him four years ago. “I think the extra muscle has taken some pressure off the back.”


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