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BASEBALL DAILY REPORT : DODGERS : Osuna Steps Into Bullpen Vacuum

August 09, 1995|BOB NIGHTENGALE

The Dodgers are trying to camouflage their euphoria, but with the way rookie reliever Antonio Osuna is pitching these days, who can blame them for believing their bullpen never has been in finer shape?

You can look at all of the eighth-inning pitchers in the National League," said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, "and you can't name me a pitcher who has more ability than he has. This guy has a chance to be outstanding."

Osuna, who went on the disabled list May 19 because of a strained groin and didn't return to the Dodgers until July 25, has emerged as closer Todd Worrell's setup man. He has not yielded a run in 5 2/3 innings since his return, giving up two hits and striking out 10.

"That guy has been outstanding," catcher Mike Piazza said. "It's hard to believe it's the same pitcher who was here before.

"His confidence level is so much higher now. He's confident he can throw strikes. The best medicine for him might have been going to [triple-A] Albuquerque to find himself."

Said Osuna: "I am more confident. I've already been to the minors. I don't ever want to go back. The big thing is I can keep my fastball down."

Perhaps the biggest difference, said Dave Wallace, pitching coach, is that Osuna simply has learned how to pitch. He realizes that he cannot rely solely on his 94-m.p.h. fastball.

"He knows what he has to do," Wallace said, "and you're seeing the results."

*

Rookie center fielder Todd Hollandsworth didn't run onto the field and kiss the ground Tuesday night, but the idea crossed his mind.

He returned to Dodger Stadium, forgetting all about his first experiences of the crazy conditions of Coors Field in Denver and Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

"You go from one place, where the ball just takes off, to the next, where the ball just swirls like it hit a wall," Hollandsworth said. "You go from one place, where you play as deep as you can, to the next, where you play shallow and make them hit it over your head.

"I've seen stuff I've never seen before.

"There was that ball that [Vinny] Castilla hit in Denver that I thought was just a pop-up to shallow center, and the next thing I know it's four rows deep. I'm thinking, 'You've got to be kidding.'

"Then [Barry] Bonds crushes that ball in [Hideo] Nomo's [near] no-hitter and it doesn't go anywhere.

"I'm finally back to a normal place again."

*

How impressive is Nomo's 161 strikeout total? He already has more strikeouts than any Dodger pitcher since Ramon Martinez struck out 223 in 1990. Nomo, who should have 10 more starts this season, is on pace to strike out 250--the highest total since Sandy Koufax struck out a league-leading 317 in 1966.

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