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DODGERS : Murray’s Confidence Is Infectious

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eddie Murray’s right hip has hurt since he played on the hard artificial turf in the New Orleans Superdome last weekend.

So why is this man smiling?

“Things feel different this year,” Murray said Saturday. “This team has a good shot of doing something.”

Such words warm the hearts of Murray’s Dodger teammates, who know he doesn’t say such things unless he means them.

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They also know Murray, who has missed only seven games in two seasons as their first baseman, should be OK despite the sore hip that caused him to miss the Dodgers’ 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves Saturday in West Palm Beach.

“I’m going to be fine, I’m not going to push any panic button,” said Murray, who earlier this spring suffered a sprained right foot. “I’ll get this thing right.”

Murray knows all about remaining calm. After a frustrating first Dodger season in 1989, when he hit .247 with 20 homers and 88 runs batted in, he came back to become a contender for National League most valuable player.

Murray had the highest batting average in the major leagues last season. He finished second to Willie McGee (.335) in the National League batting race with a .330 average, but McGee batted .324 overall for for St. Louis and Oakland, where he was traded late in the season.

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“Sure, that felt nice,” said Murray, who had 26 home runs and 95 runs batted in.

Murray said he finally learned the National League strike zone while realizing that NL pitching was not that different from American League pitching, which he saw for 12 years while with the Baltimore Orioles.

“Everybody tries to act like the leagues are so different, and I have found they really aren’t,” he said. “You still have a few junk-ballers, you still have a few hard throwers, you just have to know who does what.

“It’s nice knowing and understanding all those things.”

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Murray has hit .314 in exhibitions with a team-leading four homers and 13 RBIs in 11 games. Teammates say they have never seen him more relaxed.

“Just looking at Eddie doing his thing over there, it makes me feel good,” Darryl Strawberry said while watching Murray take batting practice. “Everybody here knows that he knows what it takes. People look up to that. They learn from that.”

The players also know that Murray has been denied a request for an extension to a contract that expires after this season.

“If they aren’t going to take care of Eddie, who are they going to take care of?” asked one player.

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Murray will not comment directly on the request. “I’m just thinking about the season, about what I have to do,” Murray said.

And yes, he was smiling.

The Dodgers won their third consecutive game Saturday. Jose Offerman singled in the winning run in the eighth inning and Dennis Cook pitched two scoreless innings for the victory in what is probably one of his last appearances with the major league team.

Ramon Martinez, making his first start since being passed over for the opening-day start, gave up nine hits and four runs in six innings. Martinez, 0-3 with a 4.84 earned-run average, and Tim Belcher, who will start opening day, are scheduled to pitch against the Angels Friday in Los Angeles.

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Mike Hartley, worked a scoreless inning for the save. Hartley has a 2.02 ERA in eight games with 15 strikeouts and five walks.

The Dodgers are 10-16, and will need to win their seven remaining exhibition games to avoid their first losing spring since 1987.


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