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He's a Regular Guy : Anderson Is a Dodger Starter by Default, but He Doesn't Mind

June 23, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

Dave Anderson's daughter, only 3 and naturally inquisitive, no longer has to ask what Daddy does when he leaves the house most afternoons and why he goes away sometimes for a week at a time.

Recent events have provided answers to those questions, and Anderson will be seen regularly in the Dodger infield.

Two injuries to Mariano Duncan in the last two weeks have allowed Anderson to shed his utility role and become the Dodgers' starting shortstop.

If the job is his by default, well, that's all right with Anderson, who doesn't know whether it will lead him back to the bench or to a permanent reversal of roles with Duncan, who was put on the 15-day disabled list last Thursday after being severely spiked.

For now, though, Anderson is the starter for the Dodgers, who will open a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves tonight at Dodger Stadium, and he seems to have embraced the role.

In the four games since Duncan's latest injury, Anderson is hitting .429--he's 6 for 14--with a home run, a triple and two doubles. His fielding, if not flawless, has been more reliable than the flashier Duncan's. Duncan, who makes some great plays, also has a tendency to make the easy look hard.

From June 8 to early last week, when Duncan was sidelined with a badly bruised buttock, Anderson was not quite as productive, going 6 for 20 at the plate.

All told, though, Anderson is hitting .352 in the 12 games in June that Duncan has missed, which is more productive than any stretch Duncan has had this season.

"I think anyone would like to go out and know they are going to play every day," Anderson said. "That's what we're in this game for, to go out and play. The only way you're going to improve yourself and make any money is to play every day."

Manager Tom Lasorda says that Anderson, 26, is making a strong bid to supplant Duncan.

"He was a starter at one time (1984)," Lasorda said of Anderson. "Certainly, he's got a chance to be a starter again, yeah."

Since Duncan took over at shortstop, Anderson has been used as a spot starter there, at third base and second base, as a late-inning defensive replacement, and occasionally as a pinch-hitter.

In Anderson's case, at least, utility player is not a euphemism for bench-warmer.

Still, that role doesn't have the allure and recognition that playing regularly holds. Anderson, who has been on both sides, says he accepts and enjoys his utility role. Sometimes, though, he admits to pining to get off the pine and play nine innings again.

The problem is that he hasn't played consistently well enough to displace Duncan, who generally is considered the more talented player. Anderson lost the job early in the 1985 season, when he was felled by a chronic back condition, and Duncan had a standout rookie season.

Once, many considered Anderson not only a permanent replacement at shortstop for Bill Russell but a star in the making. Anderson, the Dodgers' first-round pick in the 1981 draft, was voted the top major league prospect in 1982 by Pacific Coast League managers after hitting .343 and scoring 100 runs in his first complete professional season.

But injuries and inconsistent hitting have kept Anderson in his utility role, which he defends as more significant than is generally realized.

"The way baseball is set up, you just don't have set lineups anymore," he said. "So, you can't look at yourself as a utility player. You look at yourself as an everyday player. And the way Tommy manages, he goes with a lot of different lineups and uses everybody."

Said Lasorda: "Those kind of guys are hard to find. He knows his role and he accepts it. This is the kind of player managers like. They can play anywhere and accept the fact they aren't a starter. And they can start if you need them."

Anderson laughs when it is suggested that the only times he plays are when Duncan is carried off on a stretcher.

"That's why I'm on the team," Anderson said. "If somebody gets hurt, I'm there. If Saxy (Steve Sax) gets hurt, I'll play second. We've got enough third basemen now, but I'll play there, too. If you don't consider yourself an everyday player, you won't be ready when your chance comes."

He also rejects the idea that his has been a career deferred.

"No, I've had opportunities to play and I haven't hit like I think I can," Anderson said. "That's what I work on most--hitting. Defensively, I know I'm sound. If I go out there and hit, I know I'm going to play."

Anderson's current hot streak has pushed his average to .266 after a rough April, when he hit just .167. To play every day, Anderson probably would have to continue hitting in the high .200s.

Content with where he's at, but not without ambition, Anderson says it is not too late to start over as a starter.

"I still think my best days are ahead of me," Anderson said. "I've got almost five years in, and I think that's a big advantage. But if you look at my stats, I still have a lot of innings left in me--I didn't even have 1,000 at-bats in four years--as opposed to Freddy (Fernando Valenzuela), who's played six years and has got innings like someone who's played 10 years.

"I really haven't played that much. And besides, a lot of guys don't even peak until they are 30 or 31."

Maybe by that time, little Christa Anderson will be old enough to read the box scores and see for herself just what Daddy does for a living.

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