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DODGERS : For Openers, Lasorda Takes Belcher Over Martinez

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ramon Martinez learned the true price of his $85,000 holdout Tuesday when the Dodgers’ opening-day pitching assignment was given to Tim Belcher.

Belcher will cap a comeback from arthroscopic shoulder surgery when he takes the mound on April 9 at Atlanta. It is an honor Martinez thought belonged to him.

“I don’t know what to say,” Martinez said, shaking his head. “Nobody has told me anything. I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know what to think.”

Martinez, who won 20 games and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting last year, has been talking about a possible opening-day start since last winter. He thought his career record of 5-1 with an 0.83 earned-run average against the Braves would clinch it.

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“I feel great, everything has been great this spring,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what to say about it now. I want to talk to them about this before I can say any more.”

Belcher said he doesn’t understand all the fuss.

“I understand Ramon is pretty upset about it, I even heard he was crushed, and I didn’t want that to happen,” Belcher said. “I told Tommy (Lasorda), ‘If this is going to cause a problem with Ramon, maybe they should take that into consideration.’ It’s really not that big of a deal to me.

“Tommy told me, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Ramon.’ ”

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Said Lasorda: “Ramon was great last year, but Belcher is just a little bit ahead of him this year. I think the (11) days that Ramon missed may have hurt him.”

Lasorda was referring to Martinez’s holdout, during which he remained in the Dominican Republic while the other Dodger pitchers worked out in camp.

During that time, Belcher was working overtime to recover from shoulder problems that held him to a 9-9 record with a 4.00 ERA last season.

Belcher gave up seven runs in his first five spring innings, then found his rhythm. He has give up one run in his past 11 innings, including six in New Orleans Saturday that clinched the opening-day start. Against the Oakland Athletics, Belcher gave up no earned runs and three hits and struck out seven.

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Martinez is also throwing the ball well but is 0-3 with a 5.73 ERA this spring.

“Experience counts for something around here,” Lasorda said. “You think if Orel Hershiser wins just 12 games last year but is healthy this year, I’m not going to make him the opening-day starter?”

Martinez will start on the second night in Atlanta and will probably be followed in the rotation by Bob Ojeda, Kevin Gross and Fernando Valenzuela. This means that Gross, a Los Angeles area native, will probably start the home opener on April 12.

As expected, catcher Gary Carter was added to the roster Tuesday and pitcher Dave Walsh was placed on waivers. If Walsh clears waivers in 72 hours, he could return to the Dodgers’ triple-A Albuquerque team.

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Carter said he wants to dispel the notion that he is replacing team and fan favorite Mickey Hatcher.

“Nothing can replace Mickey Hatcher,” Carter said. “Mickey will always be loved. I am not here to win the team over. I am just here to try and win.”

The Dodgers need to make five more roster moves before the start of the season. Hershiser will be put on the disabled list, and shortstop Jose Offerman will be sent to Albuquerque, leaving pitchers Mike Morgan, Jim Neidlinger and Dennis Cook in limbo.

Morgan, who said he will not accept a demotion to the minor leagues, will be showcased for a possible trade Thursday when he starts an exhibition against the Kansas City Royals.

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Dodger Notes

The Dodgers fell to 7-14 in exhibition play with a 9-6 loss to the New York Yankees Tuesday. They blew a 4-0 lead after three innings because of four runs given up by Jim Neidlinger and three runs yielded by Tim Crews. The latter has given up nine runs in nine spring innings. . . . Chris Gwynn missed the game because of a lower back sprain probably caused in a home-plate collision Saturday at West Palm Beach. . . . Jeff Hamilton missed his third consecutive game with a sore right hand. . . . Orel Hershiser began work on a slightly different pitching motion, which might relieve stress on his shoulder. It is the first indication that he may look like a different pitcher after his rehabilitation is complete. “A pitcher is always changing his mechanics; I’m just doing this now because I have time to work on it,” Hershiser said.


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