It has been two years, one month, and three days since Dodger pitcher Darren Dreifort last was in the major leagues.

Hey, who can blame Dreifort for counting?

"It means a lot to me to be back, believe me," Dreifort said. "After missing all last year, one of my goals was to get back [to the big leagues] at some point. It's been a while.

"But I got everything back that I had before surgery."

Dreifort became the focal point of controversy in the Dodger organization when he apparently was overused in the bullpen during his 1994 rookie season, leading to reconstructive elbow surgery. Now, he is back, and expected to become an integral part of the pitching staff in 1997.

"I think that's all behind us now," said Bill Russell, the interim manager. "He's a little smarter now. And we're a little smarter."

Dreifort will be used carefully out of the bullpen during Tom Candiotti's stint on the disabled list. He won't be used in back-to-back days, and next season is expected to compete for a job in the starting rotation.


Second baseman Delino DeShields, who is hitting .130 since the All-Star break and has failed to hit the ball out of the infield his last 14 at-bats, decided Friday it was time for help.

DeShields contacted hitting coach Reggie Smith and asked if he could come to ballpark early Friday for extra batting practice and also study video tapes. DeShields arrived five hours before game time, took 30 minutes of batting practice, and spent the next few hours studying videotapes of himself.

"He knows he's not playing as well as he's capable of," Smith said, "and he didn't know why. He was crying out for help."


While no one has yet to make a move in the National League West, the San Diego Padres are convinced they will have a trade consummated by the July 31 deadline.

They are discussing a trade, according to a Padre executive, that would bring them outfielder Orlando Merced and shortstop Jay Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for outfielder Rickey Henderson and pitchers Scott Sanders and Bryce Florie. The Padres then would move shortstop Chris Gomez to second base, pushing Jody Reed to the bench.

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