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BASEBALL : Ward's Injury May End Up Helping Blue Jays This Season

March 13, 1994|PETER SCHMUCK | BALTIMORE SUN

Toronto Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston may be forced to start the season with right-hander Todd Stottlemyre as his closer.

That's right. The shoulder soreness that has sidelined closer Duane Ward this spring may force the Blue Jays to rearrange their pitching staff and use their fourth starter as the closer for the first few weeks of the season.

"It would be almost impossible for (Ward) to be ready," Gaston said last week. "I can't rule it out completely, but I'm certainly not counting on him."

Ward is scheduled to start throwing -- not pitching, just throwing -- on Wednesday, so it looks like the Blue Jays will need a fill-in for at least the first two or three weeks of the season.

To make the Stottlemyre scenario viable, however, the Blue Jays are going to have to make good on their attempt to add another front-line starting pitcher. General manager Pat Gillick has confirmed that the club is making a run at New York Mets starter Bret Saberhagen, and there also is interest in the Houston Astros' Greg Swindell and Pete Harnisch, and the Minnesota Twins' Kevin Tapani.

Other American League East contenders would figure to benefit from the switch in the short term. Who wouldn't prefer to face Stottlemyre over one of the most feared relievers in the game? But the long-term impact might not be so positive.

The injury to Ward actually could deal a serious blow to the Orioles' chances of overtaking the Blue Jays this year, since it may force a previously reluctant Gillick to give up the young talent necessary to upgrade the starting rotation. Ward eventually will return to the closer role and the Blue Jays will be a much stronger team.

The Orioles might be better off wishing Ward a speedy recovery and taking on the Blue Jays as configured.

Stottlemyre has resisted previous suggestions that he might be a more effective major-league pitcher working out of the bullpen, but Gaston claims that the 28-year-old right-hander is ready and willing to move into short relief.

"I think Todd can do it," Gaston said. "He's a team player. I talked with him about it on the golf course and he said he's OK with it. It's the kind of job you have to want to do. If you don't accept it, it won't get done right."

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Dodgers import Chan Ho Park, the South Korean pitcher who received $1.2 million to play American baseball, was impressive in his exhibition debut against the New York Mets last week, but it was his unusual on-field behavior that made him the center of attention.

Before stepping to the plate for his first at-bat, he honored Korean baseball tradition by bowing respectfully to the umpire.

"It's a pretty hot day today and the umpires are working hard for the players," Park said through his interpreter. "We are taught in Korea to respect the elders. I was thanking him for all his effort and for being there for us."

Park is fast becoming a media event, in much the same way that a 20-year-old phenom named Fernando Valenzuela arrived on the scene in 1980 -- endearing innocence, interpreter and all. The Dodgers can only wish him the same kind of success that made Valenzuela a household word.

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If there is the perception that submariner Todd Frohwirth and newly acquired sidearmer Mark Eichhorn are in competition for a place in the Orioles' bullpen, it hasn't kept them from becoming pretty good friends. Eichhorn even took time recently to help Frohwirth work through some mechanical problems on the mound.

"That's how it is up here (in the major leagues)," Frohwirth said. "When I came up with the Phillies, Kent Tekulve always talked to me and helped me. And if anybody needs help from me -- if there is anyone out there who thinks I am knowledgeable -- I'll help them."

The competition factor is there, but Frohwirth said it isn't a major factor because both pitchers know that they will be in the major leagues this year.

"It's not like we're against each other," Frohwirth said. "We want each other to do well. If we end up on the same team, that's up to the Orioles. If we don't end up on the same team, I think we'll end up in the major leagues somewhere, because we are both major-league pitchers."

There are definite similarities between Eichhorn and Frohwirth, right down to their identical 2.99 career ERAs, but they agree that their pitching styles are not nearly as comparable as most people think.

"Actually, we're completely different," Frohwirth said. "He comes over the ball, I'm behind the ball. He stands on the right side of the rubber, I'm left. His slider goes down. Mine goes up. There is definitely a contrast. I don't know what's going to happen, but I think it would be better to keep both of us if you're going with six pitchers."

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Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros knows the value of a good education. He was nine classes short of his bachelors degree in economics when he left UCLA in 1988 to sign with the Dodgers, but kept at it each winter until he earned his degree this year.

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