CINCINNATI — Short relief is what the Dodgers asked from Tim Belcher here Friday night. Perhaps because he is a rookie and new to the role, having been primarily a starter, Belcher took his new assignment literally.
Three minutes work.
Brief as it was, the Dodgers fully savored Belcher's impressive work out of the bullpen, which preserved a 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds before 33,781 fans at Riverfront Stadium, about 12807432038Sparta, Ohio.
"They only saw me for three minutes," Belcher said, smiling. "But it was a good three minutes. The only thing that would have been better is if I had thrown two pitches less."
It was good enough for the Dodgers, whose lead over the Houston Astros in the National League West returned to 2 1/2 games. Good enough, too, for starter Orel Hershiser, who earned his 11th win on a night when he needed relief from first Jesse Orosco and then Belcher.
Belcher's strong performance, in the absence of the injured Jay Howell, coupled with another productive night from shortstop Dave Anderson, Alfredo Griffin's replacement, left Manager Tom Lasorda with another addition to the D.L.--the decision list.
Anderson, whose two-run triple off loser Ron Robinson in the fourth inning gave the Dodgers a 4-0 lead, has improved his batting average to .300 during Griffin's absence and is playing well defensively. So, Lasorda will have to decide between Anderson and Griffin, an expert defensive player who was hitting only .167 at the time of his injury.
And, if Belcher continues to be as dominating as a short reliever as he was Friday night, will that become his permanent job? If so, what will become of Howell?
Time may heal all wounds, but it also can create some interesting questions. Lasorda, enjoying the fact that his team still is winning without Griffin, Howell and Pedro Guerrero, remains happily vague.
But, he did issue this response when asked about the status of Howell, who leads the club with eight saves.
"When that guy (Howell) comes back and is ready to pitch, what do you think I'll do with him?" Lasorda asked, sarcastically.
Give him back the short relief role?
And, what about the Anderson-Griffin question?
"Anderson's doing a helluva job, super," Lasorda said. "To paraphrase the words of the great Chief, that's a great dilemma to have."
Lasorda, a walking book of Bartlett's Quotations, did not mean Winston Churchill or Chief Sitting Bull. He was quoting Al Campanis, the former Dodger vice president, who often faced the problem of having too much talent during the Dodgers' glory days.
Belcher's pitching ability has not been surprising. He had been a capable starter, including pitching 6 shutout innings in his last start. But his dominance out of the bullpen Friday was as startling as it was impressive.
He struck out Terry McGriff on three pitches, and Nick Esasky and Barry Larkin on four each. He threw all fastballs, all registering close to--or above--90 miles per hour. The best that Red hitters could do against him was hit two foul balls.
It was enough to make a manager think about making Belcher's bullpen gig a permanent arrangement. Belcher would rather be a starter, but even he admitted a vicarious pleasure in entering a game and firing nothing but 90 m.p.h. fastballs.
"Perry (pitching coach Ron Perranoski) came out afterward and and said he thinks I should work on my changeup," Belcher said. "Obviously, he was joking."
Howell, dressing next to Belcher's locker, laughed as hard as Belcher did, knowing, perhaps, that all relief appearances aren't that easy.
Belcher said he realizes that, too, which is why his preference is to be a starter.
"It's entirely too early to be overly encouraged," Belcher said. "I'll try to enjoy it, but you won't see me breaking my arm trying to pat myself on the back.
"For Jay and Jesse, getting all those saves over all those years is one thing. For me, it's just one time. I'm not going to be satisfied. I consider what I did tonight to be like a hole-in-one."
It may not be that much of a rarity. Belcher's fastball is such that he has the ability to overpower hitters. And, earlier in the season, when he was used as a middle reliever, he logged 18 strikeouts in 13 relief innings. Overall, Belcher has 63 strikeouts in 73 innings.
"I liked the way he goes after hitters," Perranoski said. "You saw what happened. He blew them away. The biggest thing with him is, can he do it consistently? If he can, then you've got something there."
Belcher said he is not sure his talents are best put to use in the bullpen, even in the high-profile role of a short reliever.
"I don't view this as a demotion," Belcher said. "But we've got guys here who've done this a lot longer than I have. I still view my career, in the long run, as a starter."