Lasorda Has His Questions : Dodgers: Manager expects an unusually competitive spring training to provide the answers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spring training officially begins today, yet a Dodger left-handed pitcher has already thrown seven strong innings, striking out 14.

OK, so it was Tom Lasorda. At least he is in shape for what promises to be a competitive 41 days.

"Let me tell you, I f-e-e-e-l great," the Dodger manager said Thursday, one day after mowing down participants in a Dodger fantasy camp.

Wonder if he will feel the same today, after monitoring a workout involving 15 pitchers fighting for 10 spots, as well as two catchers fighting for one backup job? Not to mention the fact that Orel Hershiser is fighting to save his career.

When the rest of the squad takes the field next Wednesday, the problems will double. The team's first full workout will include seven players battling for three positions--at second base, shortstop and third base.

"I don't remember the last time it was like this," Lasorda said. "My camps are usually pretty set. This is really going to be something different."

Lasorda is used to a Dodgertown filled with enthusiasm, hard work and humor. But questions? During the spring, they are as foreign to him as days at the beach.

How will he fill the two openings in the bullpen?

"Don't know," he said.

What will he do with the starting rotation, already set with five men if Hershiser is ready?

"Can't begin to tell you," he said.

Who will play on the left side of his infield?

"Honesty, right now, I have no idea," he said.

A synopsis of the questions, with a few guesses at the answers:

The starting rotation?

Ramon Martinez, Tim Belcher and Kevin Gross are assured of spots. If Hershiser is not ready for opening day, then Bob Ojeda and Fernando Valenzuela will complete the rotation.

But Hershiser could be ready.

He threw so hard during a 45-pitch workout Wednesday, he iced his right shoulder for the first time since undergoing reconstructive surgery April 27.

"I'm going to start the camp like a normal pitcher," Hershiser said. "I'm actually ahead of a lot of guys right now. Of course, they will probably pass me quickly. If I can't keep up, I'll just back off."

Hershiser said he would be willing to start the season in the bullpen, if his arm can't go more than three or four innings. At least that would keep the rotation intact.

"If I had to become a reliever, why not?" Hershiser said. "Anything to pitch again."

But if he is ready to start, then left-handers Valenzuela and Ojeda had better worry.

If Ojeda is displaced, he would move to the bullpen, even though Lasorda publicly promised Ojeda that he would be a starter.

Ojeda dislikes pitching in relief but has experience in that area, and last season he held left-handed batters to a .168 average.

If Valenzuela is displaced, he might move to a different team. Because of his shoulder problems, his arm is not resilient enough to pitch in the bullpen.

But on the basis of his statistics last year despite throwing a no-hitter, the Dodgers are worried about counting on him as a starter for the entire season.

He allowed the most earned runs in the National League, 104, and finished second in wild pitches, with 13. He ranked third in allowing the most baserunners per nine innings, with 13.2.

Dodger management loves Valenzuela because of his reputation as a hard worker. This winter, owner Peter O'Malley showed personal interest in negotiations that resulted in Valenzuela being awarded a one-year contract worth $2.55 million.

Others in the organization, however, aren't so sold on him. It will make for a difficult decision.

What will happen to Jim Neidlinger and Mike Hartley, both of whom pitched well as starters late last year? John Wetteland, a one-time phenom, is also in limbo.

The bullpen?

Jay Howell, Jim Gott and Tim Crews are assured of places. Mike Morgan, if he is not traded, probably will fit in as a fourth right-hander.

That leaves Dennis Cook, Dave Walsh and nonroster invitee John Candelaria to compete for the final spot as the left-hander. Last season, left-handers battered Cook for a .296 average. Walsh is still considered untested after 20 major league appearances.

And Candelaria, who has the experience of 16 major league seasons on his side, finished last year by going 0-3 with a 5.48 earned-run average for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Backup catcher?

Former New York Met teammates Gary Carter and Barry Lyons will compete for the job as Mike Scioscia's backup. Carter holds the edge with the bat and with experience, but the younger Lyons is considered better defensively.

The infield?

If Jeff Hamilton is sound after missing a year because of a sore shoulder, he will be the third baseman. If Jose Offerman doesn't throw too many baseballs into the stands, he will be the starting shortstop.

Second base is a different story.

The Dodger bosses would like to give the job to Lenny Harris, but he must improve his batting average against left-handers. Last season, they held him to a .238 average with virtually no hard-hit balls in 42 at-bats.

The other leading candidate is Juan Samuel, but the Dodgers don't know whether to believe his .217 average before last year's All-Star break, or his .277 average afterward. They also worry about his defense.

Others who will receive a chance to start in the infield are Stan Javier at third base, Alfredo Griffin at shortstop and Mike Sharperson at second or third.

SPRING TRAINING SITES

Pitchers and catchers started reporting to training camp Thursday. Full squads start reporting Tuesday.

Arizona Oakland at Phoenix San Francisco at Scottsdale Milwaukee at Chandler Chicago Cubs at Mesa Angels at Mesa (Angels move to Palm Springs March 22) San Diego at Yuma Cleveland at Tucson

Florida Minnesota at Ft. Myers Houston at Kissimmee Kansas City at Haines City Boston at Winter Haven Detroit at Lakeland Cincinnati at Plant City Toronto at Dunedin Philadelphia at Clearwater St. Louis at St. Petersburg Pittsburg at Bradenton Chicago White Sox at Sarasota Texas at Port Charlotte Baltimore at Sarasota N.Y. Yankees at Ft. Lauderdale Atlanta at West Palm Beach Montreal at West Palm Beach N.Y. Mets at Port St. Lucie Dodgers at Vero Beach

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°