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June 14, 1988|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

Said Tony DeMarco, Valenzuela's agent: "The tragedy right now for Fernando is his father. If I was in Fernando's position, I know my stomach would be in knots with what he's going through.

"He's known about the thing with his father longer than when it was written in the newspaper. People who watch him don't know that. I think it's bothered him very much. He evaded the question when I asked him. You live your whole life and never see your father sick. And then . . . It's difficult.

"He's quiet. He doesn't outwardly tell people he's close to that he loves them, like you or I do. Maybe it's his upbringing. He won't use this as an excuse. He just said, 'I have good games and bad games, like everyone else.' "

--He needs glasses.

At first, Valenzuela said he needed glasses only to see the ball while hitting and that he can see the plate and the catcher's glove just fine without them.

But before one start about a month ago, Valenzuela warmed up in the bullpen wearing his specs. He said that the wire rims interfered with his peripheral vision and hindered his habit of looking skyward during his delivery.

Contact lenses, apparently, are not an option.

But last week, Valenzuela was fitted with a pair of "athletic glasses," similar to those that Dodger outfielder Mike Davis wears.

"He may try them in his next start," Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, said last week. "It's up to Fernando."

To Perranoski, Valenzuela's problem is not an injury, a problem at home, a need for glasses or uncontrollable wildness.

Perranoski believes that somewhere in the mechanics of Valenzuela's delivery, a glitch has developed. Using videotapes and first-hand observation, he has dissected Valenzuela's delivery and detected flaws he says can be corrected.

Perranoski will not say precisely what flaws he has found, but it is known that Perranoski has told Valenzuela that his right leg is too straight when he plants. "It affects his whole rhythm," Perranoski said. "His follow-through has been his biggest problem. I hate to pinpoint one thing, because something else might crop up that's related to it. But it's all related to rhythm."

Perranoski said that Valenzuela has been a conscientious student since he overcame a mental block against changing his delivery so late in his career.

"It's the most difficult thing to do for a veteran pitcher," Perranoski said. "But he's the most capable of doing it. I've seen him pick things up from scratch when he was a kid in the minors. You only had to tell him once.

"Sometimes, a lot of experience is detrimental in a way. You expect something right away to work because you've had success before. It can get frustrating. And he has been frustrated."

So far, retention would seem to be Valenzuela's main problem. He effectively implemented the adjustments in his delivery in his 9-inning effort in Montreal, but apparently didn't carry them over in his 2-inning stint against Cincinnati.

"It's hard to get that consistency," Perranoski said. "But I think it's coming."

Said Valenzuela: "Ever since the season starts, I work hard between starts. I feel good between starts, like I know what to (correct).

"Sometimes, this game can make you crazy. You think too much. I know there are things I have to do. I'm working on them, but . . . "

Results may be different these days, but Valenzuela is still the same unflappable, unassuming man at 28 that he was as a kid of 19.

"Fernando is Fernando," DeMarco said. "He's very Mexican. Maybe stoic is a better word. It has to do with his upbringing. He'll never change."

His $2.05-million salary notwithstanding, DeMarco and others close to Valenzuela say he leads a simple life. DeMarco said he is worried that people will get the mistaken idea that Valenzuela has lost his drive since accumulating riches.

"He is not living like a rich man," DeMarco said. "He takes care of his family. But he lives like a normal person. He has problems that you and I have."

The biggest problem, according to those close to Valenzuela, is that the public and media expect too much from him.

"People have to understand he's a human being," said Dodger scout Mike Brito, who signed Valenzuela and is a friend. "Fernando is a big name. People want him to have an outstanding outing every time."

Said catcher Mike Scioscia: "Fernando had such a great start (to his career) that people put expectations way up there. He's human, too. He's prone to slumps. He won only 14 games last year in an off year. That's like Tony Gwynn hitting maybe .301. For him, that's an off year. But I know a lot of pitchers that would love to win 14 games in an off year."

Holton, who has known Valenzuela since 1980, said he has never seen him so intense.

"Right now, he's working harder than anyone on the team, harder than anyone's seen him," Holton said. "He and Perry are out there every day. It seems like everything was handed to him and that he had so much God-given talent. But he works hard. He fools you.

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