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PREVIEW '93 : Reloaded Dodgers Eager to Exorcise Demons of '92

April 04, 1993|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While sitting in the clubhouse during a recent exhibition game, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis looked up at a television and heard their manager, Tom Lasorda, saying those familiar words: " If Darryl and Eric are healthy we have a very good chance . . . "

"Uh oh," Strawberry said, shaking his head. "Here he goes again, laying it on our shoulders."

"Guess we better go lift some more weights," Davis said.

But the Dodgers believe they have more players to rely on than just Strawberry and Davis. Lasorda believes he has five players who can hit the ball out of the park, including Eric Karros, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, and a rookie catcher, Mike Piazza, whose power vaulted him out of the minors.

Lasorda has a proven closer, a defense for a change, and a future Hall of Famer he calls "Bulldog" again. He has a set lineup, a group of regulars who have spent the spring together, and there is team chemistry, that unmeasurable factor that can make the difference in a season. The players say there is unity in the clubhouse and on the field, even among the reserves.

"It started building from the first day of spring when Tommy had a meeting and talked to us about unity," Lenny Harris said. "He told us that we all needed to pull on the same side of the rope, we needed to be together. Last year, we were in the cellar. This is a new year."

On that note, before the Dodgers broke training camp Wednesday, infield coach Joe Amalfitano came in the clubhouse and yelled to the players, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." Next to Lasorda, the misery of last season might have affected Amalfitano the most.

But the Dodgers will still suffer unless they do something about their bullpen. With few exceptions, their middle relief is shaky. They are in sore need of a strong left-handed reliever, maybe two, and spent too much time this spring gambling with bargains that didn't pan out.

If they shore up the bullpen, they will be competitive. But to win, they need a few breaks. As much improved as the Dodgers are, so is the rest of the National League West. Every time the Dodgers look up they will see Atlanta, Cincinnati and Houston.

This is one season the Dodgers won't mind seeing Candlestick Park.

*

This is not the same team that lost 99 games last season, made 174 errors, hit a league-low 72 home runs and scored only 548 runs. If it is, expect to say goodby to Lasorda, who is in the last season of his contract, and Fred Claire, the club's executive vice president in charge of player personnel.

Over the winter, the Dodgers traded for third baseman Tim Wallach and second baseman Jody Reed and signed relief pitcher Todd Worrell for three years at $9.5 million and reserve infielder/outfielder Cory Snyder for one year at $1.35 million.

The team re-signed reserve outfielder Mitch Webster and relievers Jim Gott and Roger McDowell and cut loose pitchers Bob Ojeda, John Candelaria, Jay Howell, Tim Crews and catcher Mike Scioscia.

"This club has more togetherness than last year's did. Guys rag on one another a little more and I guess we have a common goal," said Karros. "Everybody has a lot to prove after what we went through, and everybody has a motivating factor.

"You can just go down the lineup. Jose Offerman wants to throw away last year. With Brett Butler, you get the question of age. With Davis, it's injuries. With Strawberry, he's coming back. Wallach has had two sub-par years. With myself, I need to prove that last season was no fluke. Piazza is trying to break into the lineup and Jody Reed is coming off a sub-par year."

*

While Claire spent the winter shopping with a limited checkbook, Strawberry and Davis were healing from injuries that limited them to a combined 119 games, 10 home runs and 57 RBIs last season. They both had surgery near the end of last season--Davis on his shoulder, wrist and hand and Strawberry for a herniated disk.

If they stay healthy, the third through seventh spots in the Dodgers' batting order can be explosive.

This spring, Davis, who will bat third, worked hard to regain the bat speed he had before 1990, when he suffered a kidney injury diving for a ball in the World Series. He hit the ball well in the spring, batting .302 with three home runs and five doubles in 63 at bats. He knocked in 15 runs, scored another 14 and walked 10 times.

Strawberry, batting cleanup, came along slower with minor pulls and tightness, but he's healthy. He knocked in 11 runs, hit a lot of balls to the fence and five of his 10 hits were for extra bases.

Wallach, batting fifth, worked overtime on his swing, and once he started hitting he never stopped. He left Florida leading the team in RBIs with 16, sacrifice flies (four), tied for the team lead in doubles (six) and hit .292 with three home runs.

Karros had an even better spring than last year when he played well enough to win the 25th spot on the roster and then went on to win rookie honors. This spring, Karros hit. 388 with a team-high four home runs, six doubles and 11 RBIs.

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