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Baseball '90 PREVIEW : Dodgers: Injuries Still Key Question : Preview: Team hopes solid pitching and new offensive punch can overcome aging and poor health in quest to return to the top.


We know you've got questions. You watched the Dodgers go from world champions to fourth place in 12 months, so naturally you are wondering, what can they possibly do now?

You've heard them talk all winter about improving their offense. You've heard them hope for a healthy Kirk Gibson and Kal Daniels. You've heard them brag about their new acquisitions and predict that, if healthy, this team is a contender.

But now that opening day has sneaked up on you, just seven days later than scheduled, you've got some last-minute questions.

Go ahead. Shoot.

Q: Just how old are the Dodgers?

A: You've heard of the Gas House Gang? The Bash Brothers? Meet Team Thirtysomething.

Moving around the infield, Eddie Murray is 34, Willie Randolph is 35, Alfredo Griffin is 33, Rick Dempsey is 40, Mike Scioscia is 31.

Now to the outfield, where Kirk Gibson is 32 and Hubie Brooks is 33.

On to the bullpen, where Ray Searage and Jay Howell are both 34.

You know, that's not a very nice question.

Q: Just how hurt are the Dodgers?

A: Already, three potential members of the final roster are on the disabled list. Several other active players will need to be watched.

Kirk Gibson could return to the outfield as soon as mid-April following knee surgery last August. Jim Gott could join his new bullpen by the end of the month after going on the disabled list following last summer's elbow surgery. Pat Perry likely will not be available for the bullpen for at least a month following last winter's shoulder surgery.

Then there are the healthy ones.

Kal Daniels, also recovering from surgery, will have to watch his repaired knees while running around left field. It might be several days into the regular season before he can play a full game. Brooks suffered a slight hamstring pull in spring training, and will be watched in right field.

Shortstop Griffin has been fighting back spasms all spring, and will need to be monitored. Considering his past shoulder problems, pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will always be watched. Pitcher Mike Morgan sometimes has problems with a surgically repaired big toe.

Outfielder Mickey Hatcher strained his hamstring twice last season. Outfielder Chris Gwynn ended the season on the disabled list because of foot and knee problems. Searage was disabled last year with back problems.

And Manager Tom Lasorda learned this spring that his right knee will require surgery if he wants to continue normal activities.

Other than that, the Dodgers are as fresh as a spring chicken.

Q: How are Juan Samuel and Hubie Brooks going to help?

A: The Dodgers' two notable off-season hires were acquired for one reason. And despite all the position controversy, it's got nothing to do with where they are standing in the field.

It's about bats. It's about base hits and stolen bases and runs.

The Dodgers hope Samuel will give them something they went through nine players without finding last year--a leadoff hitter. They want somebody who will single, steal second and score on another single.

They want somebody to ensure that they will not finish last in the league in runs scored again, or last in stolen bases again, or first in runners left on base, with 1,171.

If he's happy, Samuel could be that man. He is one of only four players with 30 or more steals in each of the last three season. He bats well leading off an inning, hitting .327 in that position last year. As poorly as he did with the New York Mets in the second half of last season, batting .228 overall, the team was still 16-16 when he batted leadoff.

And, if nothing else, he can certainly do better than last year's Dodger center fielders, who combined to hit .214 with 28 runs batted in, the lowest total by starting center fielders in the major leagues.

The Dodgers believe in Samuel's positive energy such that they have resigned themselves to enduring the negative stuff.

Like how he tied the major league record by leading the league in strikeouts four consecutive years, from 1984-87. And how he has drawn more than 40 walks only once in his career. By comparison, Willie Randolph, a patient hitter, has never drawn fewer than 40 walks in a season.

Brooks' role is simple. He will bat fifth behind Eddie Murray and keep pitchers from throwing Murray junk, or not throwing to him at all. Last season Murray batted just .233 with one homer while leading off an inning. He hopes Brooks will make sure pitchers have to give him something to hit, or risk putting him on base for a big RBI man.

Brooks, who has hit at least .270 with runners in scoring position for seven straight years, has the statistics and temperament for that role.

Q: But Samuel and Brooks still have to play the outfield. And with Kal Daniels in left, won't that mean trouble on defense?

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