On the eve of their season opener in Houston, the Dodgers found a surprising solution to their roster problems by keeping 11 pitchers and optioning outfielder Reggie Williams to Albuquerque.
Demoting Williams, who had a good spring and was the Dodgers' rookie of the year last season, enabled the club to avoid deciding whether to release Jerry Reuss and his $1.3-million guaranteed salary over the next two seasons or option rookie Brian Holton to the minor leagues.
So, the way it stands now, Alejandro Pena figures to begin the season as the fifth starting pitcher. Reuss, Tim Leary and Holton probably will provide middle and long relief from the club's now-crowded bullpen.
The Dodgers' other two cuts were not nearly as surprising as the non-decision. As expected, the club sent Jose Gonzalez to Albuquerque, and they also chose to keep Tracy Woodson over Jeff Hamilton as a utility infielder.
Hamilton, Williams and Gonzalez will report to Albuquerque today.
But Mike Ramsey will likely report to center field in the Houston Astrodome as an opening-game starter in place of Ken Landreaux, who has been a starter since 1981.
Center field has long been a question mark for the Dodgers, but the most intriguing question this spring was who would fill the final positions on the 10-man pitching staff.
That's still a question, since the Dodgers don't figure to keep 11 all season, a move that leaves them with only one extra outfielder and only one right-handed pinch-hitter.
"We wanted a little more time," Manager Tom Lasorda said after Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Angels in the final Freeway Series game. "It could be a temporary arrangement for a lot of them. To paraphrase Winston Churchill and Al Campanis (Dodger vice president), time is our ally. I think Al said it before Winston."
Reuss, who gave up 1 run on 4 hits in 4 innings against the Angels Sunday, said he still considers himself a starter until told otherwise. Leary said he will accept any role he is given. Lasorda says he hasn't told any of the three their roles, but he will soon.
Before hearing he had secured a roster spot (at least for the time being), Reuss said:
"I believe in me. Something I can always count on is that. I'll be the first to admit when I can't do it. Where do I stand? I'm standing right here (at) the locker, I'm pretty sure of that."
After being told of the cuts, Reuss said:
"If you have 11 pitchers, unless you have a couple of B games scheduled, there's still got to be a change. Don't ask me. Go find the answer man. What's there to be relieved about? All it means is that the decision has been delayed. . . . I don't like being held up any more than you guys. But that's the way it is."
Said Leary: "I'll just pitch when they need me. Maybe they can work out a trade involving somebody that would work it out. A funny game."
There are several scenarios that could solve the dilemma. The Dodgers could make a trade involving either Reuss or Pena, or they could send Holton to the minor leagues, or they could keep things the way they are.
Williams, who hit .344 in the spring before Sunday, said he was given some indication that his demotion is temporary, but he said he's taking nothing for granted.
"(Lasorda) said he has very high hopes I'll be back soon," Williams said. "With something like this, you always try to keep optimistic. I know in my heart I should be here, but I guess I'm the odd man out. Anybody would be disappointed and heartbroken. Unfortunately, I had to be the one the jury was debating about.
"I hate to be the victim of circumstances, but that's what it is."
Barring a trade for an established center fielder, it looks as though Ramsey will be given a chance to prove himself as the club's every-day center fielder.
"All I want to do, man, is go out and play," Ramsey said. "I'm a rookie here. I just want to play. Hopefully, I'll be (in the starting lineup) some day."
Lasorda would not reveal his opening-game lineup, but it figures to look like this: Steve Sax, second base; Mariano Duncan, shortstop; Bill Madlock, third base; Pedro Guerrero, left field; Mike Marshall, right field; Franklin Stubbs, first base; Mike Scioscia, catcher; Mike Ramsey, center field; Orel Hershiser, pitcher.