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BASEBALL '93 : Dodgers Get Out Erasers for 1993 : Baseball: The memory of last season remains strong enough to be used as an incentive.

April 05, 1993|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — 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 oft-heard 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.

The Dodgers can rely on more than Strawberry and Davis. Lasorda believes he has five players who can hit home runs, including the reigning National League rookie of the year and a rookie catcher.

Lasorda has a closer who can throw hard, a defense that can catch the ball and a pitcher he calls Bulldog, who once again can sink the ball.

He has a group of regulars that has spent the spring together. They have played together, run together, even had days off together.

There is team chemistry, that immeasurable 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. The infield combined for 116 errors.

But the Dodgers will still have problems 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 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 should not be 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 veteran third baseman Tim Wallach and second baseman Jody Reed, and signed Todd Worrell for three years for $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.

The players who remained pulled closer together and are determined to avenge the embarrassment of last season.

"This club has more togetherness than last year's did," said first baseman Eric Karros, last season's rookie of the year. "Guys rag on one another a little more and I guess we have a common goal.

"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. (Mike) Piazza is trying to break into the lineup, and Jody Reed is coming off a sub-par year.

"Last year we were a team but not anything like this year."

OFFENSE

While Claire spent the winter shopping on a budget, Strawberry and Davis were healing from injuries that limited them to a combined 119 games, 10 home runs and 57 runs batted in 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 3-7 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 batted .282, with four home runs and five doubles in 71 spring at-bats. He drove in 16 runs, scored 15 and walked 10 times. But he needs to strike out less.

Davis' goal is to keep himself in the lineup, so he said he ate more sweets in the off-season and lifted weights to cushion himself against injuries. He also spent the spring telling reporters he wasn't going to dive for balls anymore, then played as hard in left field as ever. He was ready for the season to start two weeks ago.

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