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Newest Dodger: Is He Just a Face in Crowd, or Challenger to Sax?

September 23, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Another new player required lodging in the overbooked Dodger clubhouse here Tuesday night, bringing the club's bloated roster to its 40-man limit.

It isn't known yet whether Mike Sharperson, the newly acquired infielder from Toronto, will become more than just another face in the Dodgers' huddled masses. But management is hinting that, by spring training, Sharperson might challenge Steve Sax, who has resided at second base since 1982.

Sharperson, on the bench Tuesday night, did not have the opportunity to challenge anyone in the Dodgers' 4-3 win over the Giants made possible by a dogged pitching effort from Fernando Valenzuela (13-14) and sufficient offensive production led by Steve Sax.

The Giants' National League West lead over Cincinnati was cut to 6 1/2 games by their third straight loss, two of them to the Dodgers.

Sax, whose starting spot eventually may be challenged by Sharperson, had two hits and his fifth home run of the season, extending his hitting streak to 17 games.

Sharperson, obtained for minor-league pitcher Juan Guzman, hadn't so much as picked up a bat or field a ground ball in nearly three weeks before receiving the news on Monday that he had been traded to the Dodgers. After starting the season as Toronto's starting second baseman, Sharperson finished it in the minor leagues and was not recalled by the Blue Jays in September, when the rosters expanded.

"I didn't do anything, no hitting, nothing," said Sharperson before Tuesday's game. "I think I'd be (uncomfortable) playing right away, but I'm a mature enough hitter where I can adjust."

The Dodgers, apparently unaware of Sharperson's hiatus, had intended to start him at third base. When Manager Tom Lasorda found out, he quipped: "Well, at least he'll be well rested."

Although the trade interrupted his vacation, Sharperson said he was happy to join the Dodgers. Mostly, he was happy to leave the Blue Jay organization.

Sharperson claims he was not given a fair chance to make it in the major leagues with the Blue Jays.

There is some evidence to support the contention. He hit .289 for the Blue Jays' Triple-A team at Syracuse in both 1985 and '86, but was not recalled either season.

But wasn't Sharperson given the Blue Jays' starting second base job in April after a strong spring?

"I don't think 96 at bats (in 32 games) is a fair shot," Sharperson said. "The numbers I had in Syracuse the last two years deserved a whole year in Toronto. Also, it was my first time in the big leagues and it takes time to adjust.

"I'm happy just to be out of the (Toronto) organization. I wasn't surprised, because I had talked to (Blue Jays Vice President) Pat Gillick and he said they'd try to move me to a club where I'd get a chance to play in the big leagues."

The Dodgers will give Sharperson that chance. Primarily a second baseman, Sharperson figures to challenge Sax for the starting job. But Sharperson also has played third base and was originally signed as a shortstop. At the least, the Dodgers might use him as a utility -player.

Sax has taken a nonchalant attitude toward the supposed competition the trade will create.

"I believe in my heart I can play," Sax said. "If they believe someone else can do better, then they can put him there. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to try to keep playing as well as I can. I'm not going to give it another thought."

The Dodgers have become dissatisfied with Sax's defense, especially his ability to turn double plays.

Interestingly, Sharperson said one of the reasons the Blue Jays gave him for his demotion to Triple-A was lack of proficiency in turning double plays.

"I don't think I had a real problem with that," Sharperson said. "I think I turned the double play as good as anyone. I think they really just liked other guys in the organization better, particularly Manny Lee.

"I consider myself more of an offensive player. I think good offense carries over to your defense, but not the other way around."

Valenzuela, who allowed 10 hits and struck out 6 in eight innings, gave up bases-empty home runs to Chili Davis in the second and Bob Melvin in the fourth. Then, in the eighth, Melvin hit his second of the night. Valenzuela now has allowed 25 home runs this season, tops on the club and the most allowed in any of his seven seasons.

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