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McGriff’s Return May Be Delayed

Times Staff Writer

Fred McGriff rejoined the Dodgers on Thursday after a three-game minor league rehabilitation assignment, but he was not activated and could remain in a holding pattern for a few more days until the Dodgers weather their pitching crisis.

McGriff, sidelined since July 4 because of injuries to his left groin and right knee, said he is running a lot better but is still not fully recovered.

“I’ve got to be healthy enough to play the way I’m capable of playing,” McGriff said. “If I don’t feel like I can give 100%, it wouldn’t be good for me or the team. I’ve got to be able to run the bases and score a run if I have to. I can hit and play the field, but I can’t be out there if I can’t score.”

McGriff won’t be out there until the Dodger pitching staff regains its legs. An illness to Andy Ashby, who has an upper respiratory condition, forced Wilson Alvarez and Kevin Brown to start on three days’ rest Wednesday and Thursday, and extra-inning games Tuesday and Wednesday taxed the Dodger bullpen.

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The Dodgers on Wednesday recalled Masao Kida, who is expected to start today against the Cubs, to bolster the staff and will carry 12 pitchers -- and one fewer position player than usual -- until their bullpen catches its breath.

“I don’t want to make a move with a position player because we have to protect our pitching,” said General Manager Dan Evans, who saw McGriff play a Gulf Coast League game Wednesday.

“Plus, Fred needs a day off after playing three consecutive days. I’m encouraged by what I saw [Wednesday]. He played good defense and ran well. We’ll assess his situation in the next couple days.”

Ashby, meanwhile, did not accompany the Dodgers on their flight to Chicago after Thursday’s game “because we didn’t want to run the risk of him infecting the other guys,” Manager Jim Tracy said.

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Ashby, who was examined by the Marlins’ team physician Wednesday night, took a commercial flight to Chicago on Thursday, but it’s doubtful he’ll be available for the weekend series against the Cubs.

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Reliever Paul Quantrill has pitched in eight of the previous 10 games, Tom Martin has pitched in seven of nine games, Guillermo Mota in four of six games, and Paul Shuey in three of five games.

The physical toll on the Dodger bullpen, which combined to throw 12 1/3 innings Tuesday and Wednesday against the Marlins, has been considerable, but the mental strain of pitching in so many close games has been even more taxing.

“I’m fine physically; it’s been more of a mental battle because every game we play is so close,” said Quantrill, who escaped a first-and-third, two-out jam in the eighth Thursday. “The physical work is one thing, but when every game is tight, it makes it tough. Anyone who tells you they want to come in all these one-run games, that they love it, is lying.”

Then again, it beats the alternative. Martin has bounced around professional baseball for 15 years, enduring five arm surgeries and injuries that limited him to 16 big-league appearances the last two seasons, so he’s not about to complain about the career-high 60 appearances he already has this season.

“I have to agree with Paul -- I don’t think anyone would ask to pitch in so many tight situations -- but I’m giddy every time I pick up a ball, because I’m able to play catch after five surgeries,” said Martin, who signed with the Dodgers after a winter workout.

“I’m not a very mental person. I’m not very smart, and you’ll notice that more if I’m around here longer. I don’t get paid to think; if I was, I’d be broke. So if the phone rings in the bullpen, I’ll answer it.”

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Eric Gagne’s two strikeouts Wednesday night brought his season total to 100, marking the first time a Dodger reliever has struck out 100 or more in two consecutive seasons. Gagne fanned 114 batters in 2002 and has 103 strikeouts this season after fanning the side in the ninth inning Thursday.

ON DECK

Opponent -- Chicago Cubs, three games.

Site -- Wrigley Field, Chicago.

TV -- Fox Sports Net 2 today, Channel 11 Saturday, Channel 13 Sunday.

Radio -- KFWB (980), KWKW (1330).

Records -- Dodgers 62-58, Cubs 63-57.

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Record vs. Cubs -- 2-1.

Today, 12:15 p.m. PDT -- Masao Kida (0-0, 0.00) vs. Mark Prior (10-5, 2.76).

Saturday, 10 a.m. -- Odalis Perez (8-9, 4.40) vs. Kerry Wood (11-9, 3.40).

Sunday, 11:15 a.m. -- Hideo Nomo (13-9, 2.86) vs. Carlos Zambrano (11-8, 3.07).


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