The Atlanta Braves have made a ritual out of slow starts, helping to turn what could be an early showdown for the eventual National League pennant into a battle between teams that are playing below .500 baseball.
Yet, the Braves are quite used to this feeling. They were in third place, 4 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies, in mid-June last season when they took off, running away with the NL East.
The Braves [3-4] once again are not concerned about their slow start, and advise the Dodgers [3-5] that it's no time to worry.
"It's a grind, you just have to persist," Brave Manager Bobby Cox said. "When you win four or five in a row, you don't strut out there. And when you lose four or five in a row, you don't hang your head.
"Over the long haul, if you've got it, it will come out. Games in April are just as important as they are in September, but it's too early to get concerned."
Said Atlanta outfielder Dwight Smith: "The key is don't panic. When you panic, all you do is prolong the agony. The manager is the whole key. If he's panicking, the rest of the team will panic. The manager has got to keep the team up. That's why he gets paid the big bucks.
"Let's face it, if you don't come together in 162 games, it means your team wasn't a good team to begin with."
Dodger All-Star catcher Mike Piazza, who grew up a Philadelphia Phillies' fan, was saddened to hear that Phillie catcher Darren Daulton appears headed for retirement because of his ailing knees.
"It's apparent he's playing with a lot of pain," Piazza said. "It just gets to the point where you don't even enjoy coming to the ballpark. All of the money in the world isn't worth the discomfort. I know the feeling, it just makes you cranky and you take it out on people close to you."
Does Piazza worry about his longevity when he sees Daulton's career ending?
"What's going to happen is going to happen," Piazza said. "If my career gets to the same situation and it's agonizing to come to the ballpark, I would consider doing the same thing. It's just part of the game, what are you going to do?"
Dodger starter Ramon Martinez, who has a torn groin muscle, was examined Monday by Dr. Frank Jobe. It's premature to provide an accurate timetable on Martinez's return, although he's expected to be out about six weeks. Pat Screnar, Dodger physical therapist, said: "Suffice it to say, it will be a while. In addition to healing time, he needs conditioning time to get back in shape to pitch in the National League. That adds time to the equation how long he will be out."
The Dodgers decided to keep their pitching order intact, and Pedro Astacio will start tonight against the Braves' John Smoltz. Tom Candiotti, who had no problem with his strained calf while pitching on the side Monday, will start Wednesday.
Dodger pitcher Darren Dreifort, who opened the season on the disabled list, will travel to Los Angeles and pitch simulated games during the homestand. If there are no complications, he is scheduled to pitch in triple-A Albuquerque.
The Dodger game was their 3,000th in Los Angeles. . . . Kirk Gibson, who threw out the first pitch, hasn't lost any of his playful aggressiveness, throwing shoulder blocks into clubhouse attendants and popular radio personality Joe McDonald.