WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the time it took for two Atlanta Brave pitchers to make two bad pitches in the ninth inning here Saturday, two struggling Dodger hitters improved both their averages and confidence.
Jeff Hamilton opened the top of the ninth inning with a home run to left field off Brave reliever Charlie Puleo, cutting Atlanta's lead to 3-1. Then, after Brave Manager Chuck Tanner replaced Puleo with left-hander Paul Assenmacher, Franklin Stubbs hit the first pitch over the right-field fence.
Soon, it was 3-3 on Craig Shipley's run-scoring single. And finally, the Dodgers completed an impressive 4-3 victory in the 10th inning when Atlanta center fielder Dion James dropped a routine fly ball, allowing Mike Devereaux to score from third base.
It was only a spring training game, and the results usually are inconsequential. Of more importance to the Dodgers were the indications that Hamilton and Stubbs are coming out of their spring slumbers at the plate.
Hamilton, hitting .059 until two days ago, had a home run and run-scoring single against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday and came back Saturday with his second home run of the spring. Stubbs was hitting .161, with no home runs and no RBI, before Saturday. He now has one of each, but it took him five trips to the plate to hit safely.
Naturally, both Hamilton and Stubbs were happy with their home runs. But for different reasons.
Stubbs has been handed the first-base job this spring, and it is his to keep unless he fails to hit. So, it is important to him to improve on last season's .226 average.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is fighting to unseat Bill Madlock at third base, or as an alternative, make the club as a utility infielder.
With only two weeks of spring training remaining, and with Madlock hitting .333 when not out with soreness in his right shoulder, some believe Hamilton does not have a chance, at least not this spring. Hamilton thinks otherwise.
"I imagine that if I had hit well the first two weeks of camp and slowed down after that, they'd wonder about me going into the season," Hamilton said. "So, I'd rather hit well now.
"It's coming around to where I feel a little better now. I just go up there and stand and wait for one (pitch) to hit instead of chasing balls. I was a little anxious to prove that this winter (he hit .209 in the Dominican League) was a fluke. I'm just going up there now with the idea of hitting. I was thinking too much about what I had to do."
Basically, that also is Stubbs' philosophy.
"A couple of times (this spring), I've been jumping out at pitches that I shouldn't have," Stubbs said. "Joey (Amalfitano, Dodger coach) told me to be selective and hit my pitch. Most of the time, I've been waiting on the ball, but I just wasn't hitting the pitches I wanted."
When Steve Sax limped off the field in the bottom of the fourth inning after a collision with Atlanta's Ozzie Virgil near second base, it looked as though the Dodgers had suffered their first serious injury of the spring.
Sax, clutching his left leg, asked out of the game. Limping, he was escorted from the field and into the clubhouse by trainer Bill Buhler.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, Sax only suffered a deep thigh bruise. Buhler said Sax likely will rest a few days. Most important to Sax, his right heel was not reinjured in the collision. Sax underwent microscopic surgery to remove a bone spur and repair inflamed tissue in the heel over the winter.
"I'm all right," Sax said. "I could have stayed in. But there's just no sense in staying in the game during spring training with a charley horse. It's just sore on the top of the thigh."
The collision apparently looked a lot worse than it was. The Braves had the bases loaded and one out against pitcher Orel Hershiser. Atlanta pitcher Zane Smith hit a slow grounder to Sax, who ran toward Virgil for the tag. But Sax toppled over Virgil and could not make the throw to first base to complete the double play.
Orel Hershiser worked six innings--he gave up three runs on six hits--and said he felt fresh. "The fifth inning, I started to drag a little bit, but in the sixth, I got the pop back in my pitches," Hershiser said. "My last two outings, I'd like to go at it like a normal outing, like a full game." . . . Ken Howell held the Braves scoreless in the ninth and 10th and picked up the win. Howell walked only one batter and did not give up a hit. . . . Because Manager Tom Lasorda was among the Dodger officials in the Domincan Republic attending the opening of the organization's baseball academy, third base coach Joe Amalfitano served as manager Saturday. . . . Alejandro Pena is expected to make his fourth spring appearance today against the Braves in Vero Beach. He will be opposed by Jeff Dedmon. . . . Infielder Dave Anderson still is bothered by a sore disk in his back. Anderson hopes to return to action by the end of next week. . . . Mike Marshall was given the day off. He worked out in Vero Beach.