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Martinez Falters After Three-Day Rest : Dodgers: He gives up five runs in 3 2/3 innings as Reds win, 6-0. L.A. falls half a game behind first-place Braves.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juggling pitchers in a championship race is a bit like juggling knives. If it doesn’t work, somebody can get hurt.

Ask the Dodgers, who today are in second place after their best pitcher, Ramon Martinez, worked on three days’ rest for the first time this season Tuesday. This was done so that Martinez could experience a normal schedule before pitching Sunday against the first-place Atlanta Braves.

It will be the last time he disregards his rest or the Cincinnati Reds, who knocked him out in the fourth inning during a 6-0 victory before 21,256 at Riverfront Stadium.

Coupled with Atlanta’s fifth consecutive victory, the Dodgers fell half a game behind with 23 games remaining. They are out of first place for the first time in 11 days, only the fifth time since May 14. They have won four of the first six games on this trip and lost 1 1/2 games in the standings.

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“Ramon looked totally different,” said Lenny Harris, who had three of the Dodgers’ five hits against Jose Rijo and Ted Power. “He had no strength, and he knew he had no strength.”

During 71 agonizing pitches in 3 2/3 innings, Martinez gave up five runs and five hits with several uncharacteristic blunders:

--He gave up a second-inning home run to former teammate Mariano Duncan, who last week was batting .169 against right-handers.

--He gave up two third-inning runs when, on three consecutive batters, he walked Rijo, hit Billy Hatcher on the arm, then walked Hal Morris. Chris Sabo drove in both runs with a double.

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Martinez was finished after giving up a two-out, two-run double to Hatcher in the fourth, bringing on a succession of three pitchers who probably won’t be seen much in this championship race--Dennis Cook, John Wetteland and Mike Christopher, who made his major league debut with two scoreless innings.

“He was not solid, he kept getting the fastball up. He just wasn’t himself,” Harris said of Martinez.

Said Martinez: “I felt very good, I felt strong. . . . I don’t think (three days’ rest) affected me. I really don’t know what happened. It was just not a good day.”

Several Dodger veterans think they know what might have happened. They said that making the sudden switch to three days’ rest can hurt a pitcher in an important game.

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“When working on three days, you know you can’t make mistakes because you don’t have the arm strength you usually have,” Darryl Strawberry said. “You have to make a lot of good pitches, because you can’t throw your fastball by people to get out of jams so easily.

“Something like this is not so good for a guy who has never been in a pennant race. It is harder for him to suddenly make this adjustment.”

Brett Butler simply shook his head.

“Three days’ rest? I don’t know,” he said. “I think our coaching staff did the right thing by wanting to get our ace in there against Atlanta, but. . . .”

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The Dodgers approached Martinez last weekend in Pittsburgh and asked him about pitching on short rest. After throwing 116 strong pitches Friday against the Pirates, Martinez agreed.

“We would never have done it if he didn’t think he would be strong enough,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “We left it entirely up to him.”

Lasorda indicated the man sitting on his office couch, Dodger announcer Don Drysdale.

“I don’t think pitching on three days’ rest ever bothered him,” he said. “The Dodgers used to always use a four-man rotation.”

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Said Martinez: “If they asked me to do it again, and I felt strong, I would do it again. I’ve just been having a lot of bad games lately. But I have not lost my confidence.”

In Martinez’s last eight starts, he is 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA. The slump has virtually eliminated his chances of winning 20 games for a second consecutive year, dropping his record to 16-10 while increasing his ERA to 3.08.

And if he wins at Atlanta Sunday, it will be his first road victory since July 2. Since then, Martinez has gone 0-6 in seven starts with a 4.57 ERA.

Today, after only the sixth shutout against them this season--and first since Aug. 9--the Dodgers must face the Houston Astros’ Pete Harnisch, who has a 2.49 ERA. It will be the first of two games in the Astrodome before the weekend showdown at Atlanta. The Braves will be home against the San Diego Padres for two games.

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Orel Hershiser, who will start today for the first time in 15 days, is hoping for some needed success.

“We rested to regain strength and get rid of stiffness in the shoulder, and I think that’s been accomplished,” Hershiser said.

“I just hope I get out there and don’t have more stiffness and don’t scuffle, and the game will be fun again.”

DOING IT ALL: Steve Avery pitched and batted Atlanta back into first place in a 4-1 victory over San Francisco. C7

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