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Schofield's Transformation Is a Hit

May 03, 1987|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

Dick Schofield would probably prefer to keep it quite hush-hush, but his actions keep speaking with such volume, they cannot be muffled. Like it or not, Schofield is winning games with his bat, not just his glove.

It happened in Game 3 of the 1986 American League Championship Series, when Schofield's two-run homer off Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd was the difference in the Angels' 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

It happened again Saturday night in Anaheim Stadium. Schofield drove a 1-0 pitch from Boston's Bob Stanley over the center-field fence for a two-run home run that gave Angel starter Mike Witt just the lift he needed to beat the Red Sox, 4-2.

The modern-day Schofield is a tough out, but the transformation took time. In 1984, his first full season as the Angels' starting shortstop, Schofield hit .193 and finished with more strikeouts (79) than hits (77). If it weren't for all the ground balls he devoured and turned into putouts, it was almost enough to make a guy long for Edmonton.

"I was just a so-so fielder in the minor leagues," Schofield said after Saturday night's 2-for-4 performance. "Then, in '84, it was my fielding that kept me here."

And now he is becoming a hitter opposing pitchers have to respect, and he's still making opposing batters go back to the dugout in frustration.

It's a development that Angel Manager Gene Mauch has watched closely, and with much pleasure. Early reviews might have compared Schofield to someone like former Baltimore Oriole Mark Belanger, who made a nice career out of fielding any ground ball within his reach. But Mauch says the potential Schofield has demonstrated warrants parallels to names like Robin Yount and Alan Trammell.

"The more he learns about big league hitting, the better he's going to become," Mauch said. "He's still just a kid. . . a young, young man. Before he's through, there's going to be a year where he hits 25 home runs, steals 25 bases and hits .280 or better."

Schofield, 24, has already learned the ups and downs of life in the majors. He finished the 1986 season by going 9 for 30 (.300) against the Red Sox in the playoffs. He began 1987 by hitting .077 the first week, and pushing that average to only .186 by April 20. But after Saturday night, he is 22 for 64 (.344) in his last 17 games and has raised his average to .273.

Schofield said the recent surge is simply attributable to being more comfortable at the plate. "I've been seeing the ball well, and hitting it," he said softly.

Mauch sees much more than that. To him, the turnaround has been a matter of discipline, the kind of discipline it will take to make Schofield's transformation complete.

"His two-strike approach is better," Mauch said. "It's more of a hands game rather than a big swing. Good big league hitters are able to hit with two strikes. In the big leagues, you're going to have to hit with two strikes every once in a while."

Mauch was asked if one day soon, people will begin referring more to Schofield's offensive abilities than what he does in the field. Could he become Dick Schofield, the slugging shortstop?

"That's something you guys will have to develop," Mauch told reporters, "because he won't add to it. He just wants to play ball."

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