DODGERS : Hershiser Front-Runner for Opening Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orel Hershiser's determined comeback from shoulder surgery in 1990 was completed Tuesday without the pitcher throwing a pitch.

In the din of a cramped spring training clubhouse, minutes after Tuesday's exhibition between the Dodgers and Montreal Expos had been rained out in the fourth inning, with the Expos leading, 3-2, Manager Tom Lasorda all but made it official that Hershiser would be the team's opening-day starter.

The Dodgers open the season April 5 at Miami against the Florida Marlins.

"Let's put it this way," Lasorda said. "I'm leaning toward Bulldog. I'd like to see him be the opener."

That was more than just acknowledgment of Hershiser's strong showing this spring. The honor seems a fitting reward for a pitcher who overcame significant odds to make it back to the rotation.

Hershiser missed almost two complete seasons after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his pitching shoulder, April 27, 1990. Dr. Frank Jobe had never performed such surgery on a major league pitcher.

"When you see the tremendous amount of work that he has put in, you've got to say, 'I'm going to bet on him,' " Lasorda said of Hershiser.

Lasorda said that although Hershiser will never be the pitcher he was in 1988--a year in which he won the Cy Young Award, broke Don Drysdale's streak of consecutive scoreless innings and led the Dodgers to the World Series championship--he thinks Hershiser is good enough again to be the kingpin of the team's pitching staff.

"No way he'll be like he was in '88," Lasorda said. "Nobody can pitch like that again. Nobody. But I'm very impressed with the way he's pitching right now."

Hershiser's spring earned-run average of 5.40 does not suggest that the magic is back, but in this case, his ERA is almost irrelevant. Hershiser allowed six earned runs in his last outing at Ft. Lauderdale, a game in which hurricane-force winds made singles out of routine pop flies. At one point, Hershiser was nearly blown off the mound.

What has impressed the Dodgers is the increased break in Hershiser's curveball. Last season, his first complete season since the surgery, he finished with a 10-15 record with an ERA of 3.67.

He seemed tentative at times and the break on his curve was rounder and slower. This spring, the snap has returned.

"He's throwing free and easy," Lasorda said. "He's not holding back. He's not afraid to cut the ball loose. To me, that's encouraging."

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Ramon Martinez missed his scheduled start because of the rain. Trying to anticipate a break in the weather, Lasorda planned to work Martinez into a morning B game. But the rains came as Martinez was about to enter. His arm then stiffened, and the team decided not to start him in the afternoon game.

Rick Trlicek, another right-handed pitcher with a history of arm problems, was acquired on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. Trlicek, 23, made a brief appearance with the Blue Jays last season before undergoing surgery for a nerve in his right elbow on Aug. 12. . . . To make room for Trlicek, the Dodgers designated pitcher Chris Nichting for reassignment.

Because of the wet conditions, outfielders Brett Butler, Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry took first-inning at-bats before leaving the game. . . . Stealing a page from Mike Scioscia's book, catcher Mike Piazza blocked the plate on a first-inning putout of Charlie Montoyo. Piazza also had a double to center in the fourth.

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