Dodger relief pitcher Ken Howell lost more than 20 pounds during the off season, and this spring the Dodgers are trying to trim $20,000 off his 1986 salary.
Howell, 6-12 with a 3.87 earned-run average last season, made $175,000. The Dodgers, who twice this spring have successfully cut salaries through arbitration cases, are offering $155,000 to Howell, who did not qualify for arbitration because he has not played three major league seasons.
"It has been very frustrating," Howell said of the Dodgers' apparently non-negotiable offer. "But if I let it keep bothering me, it will show in my pitching. I don't want it to affect me."
Howell, essentially, has no options if the Dodgers stick to their offer. Between March 1 and March 11, the Dodgers can unilaterally renew Howell's contract at a figure as low as $140,000.
Howell has talked about walking out of camp, but he said it is something he doesn't want to do.
"That's something I kept in mind, but I don't know about that," Howell said. "I've done all I can to get in shape (his weight is down from 236 to 214) and I feel good. I hope it all wasn't for nothing."
Said Dodger Vice President Al Campanis: "Why reward mediocrity?"
Mariano Duncan is the only other Dodger regular who has yet to sign for 1987. The Dodgers are also offering Duncan a pay cut.
Right-hander Brian Holton was one of several Dodger pitchers to throw batting practice Sunday in the third day of workouts.
For some, it was a day to get in shape. Holton, though, used his stint to try to convince club executives he belongs on the opening-day roster.
"I think I have to pitch my way onto the team," said Holton, a candidate for a spot as a long reliever. "I think I held my own last year and showed some people I can pitch."
Called up from the Dodgers' Albuquerque farm club in August, Holton was 2-3 with a 4.44 earned-run average before breaking his right wrist.
He started strong, not allowing a run in his first four appearances, and walked only six batters while striking out 24 in 24 innings.
Said Holton: "I'd like to think I'm a candidate for the fifth starting spot. I think I'm best as a starter, but I'll do anything they want. I'm healthy and I need to show I can pitch."
The Chicago Cubs have invited right-hander Dickie Noles to camp. Noles, 30, was 3-2 last year with the Cleveland Indians, with 32 relief appearances. He will join the Cubs today in Mesa, Ariz.
Keith Hernandez looked in midseason shape as the result of a winter conditioning program when he made an early appearance Sunday in the New York Mets' training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Hernandez lifted weights over the winter to keep close to his playing weight of 200 pounds. He estimated his current weight at between 202 and 204 pounds.
"Last year I reported at 212, and I found out that losing 10 pounds in the spring can drain you," the 33-year-old first baseman said. "It's the first offseason I've lifted weights. When you get older you spend a little more time to stay in shape if you want to stick around."
Speaking of old-timers, Joe Niekro reported to the New York Yankees' spring training camp at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after missing the first two workouts and immediately began receiving treatment for a strained lower back.
Niekro, 42, downplayed the severity of the injury he suffered Jan. 27, when he was picking up wood at his Lakeland, Fla., home.
Manager Lou Piniella expects the right-hander to be able to join workouts late next week.