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Gagne, Smoltz Are Cy Young Worthy

Times Staff Writer

A National League closer hasn’t won the Cy Young Award since Mark Davis of the San Diego Padres in 1989, but several Dodger coaches and players said this year’s award could go to Eric Gagne or Atlanta’s John Smoltz.

“For me, Gagne or Smoltzie, those two guys could be the candidates, [No.] 1 and 2,” starter Odalis Perez said. “They have to have those two guys in mind when they decide who’s going to win the Cy Young Award.”

Gagne has said Smoltz is more deserving of the award, but the Brave closer’s bid took a hit earlier this week when he was put on the disabled list because of tendinitis in his right elbow. Gagne surpassed Smoltz on Friday when he registered his 45th save and still has an opportunity to top the all-time mark of 57 set in 1990 by Bobby Thigpen.

Eighteen-game winner Russ Ortiz of Atlanta appears to be the leading candidate among the league’s starters -- nobody else has more than 15 victories -- but his 3.71 earned-run average is, well, average.

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Dodger pitching coach Jim Colborn said those who vote for the award should take into consideration that closers have become an increasingly important component of a team’s success.

“I feel in today’s baseball world, things have evolved where really the most valuable player on your team is the closer,” Colborn said. “You could argue that if there was some dominant starter that had won 23 or 24 games [then he should win the award].

“But starters aren’t set up to go nine innings anymore, so if you’ve got a championship team, the absolute essential ingredient is the closer. By that logic, the closer is the most important pitcher.”

Gagne’s stats compare favorably to Smoltz’s. While Smoltz has a lower ERA (0.89, compared to Gagne’s 1.45), he has blown more saves (three) and has far fewer strikeouts (67). Gagne has converted every save opportunity and has struck out 118 while pitching only 7 1/3 more innings than Smoltz.

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“When you put up those kind of numbers,” Perez said, “people have to keep you in mind.”

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Manager Jim Tracy said he feels comfortable playing 44-year-old Rickey Henderson in the heat of a pennant race even though the veteran outfielder recently acknowledged he was only “80-85%" because of shoulder tendinitis.

“He has effectiveness with this club in the right situations,” Tracy said.

Henderson has been used as a starting left fielder against left-handed pitchers and off the bench as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter.

The tendinitis primarily affects his swing, Tracy said.

“But he’s not complaining about it to the point where he doesn’t feel like he can participate,” Tracy said. “It’s a day-to-day thing with him. His age may have a little something to do with it.”

Henderson said he planned to play next season if he didn’t feel limited by his shoulder and has already received several invitations to play winter ball.

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“I wouldn’t mind coming back here,” Henderson said of the Dodgers. “But if you can’t come back here, it’s always just good to play wherever you get the opportunity to play.”

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The Dodgers optioned Victor Alvarez to triple-A Las Vegas to make room for Kazuhisa Ishii on the roster, but Alvarez could return to Dodger Stadium as soon as Monday when the September callups arrive.


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