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Guerrero Is Causing the Dodgers to Go Mental

Baseball: Despite obvious potential, continued poor baserunning decisions and other lapses frustrate manager and teammates.

April 07, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baserunning mistakes and mental lapses in the field cost Wilton Guerrero his job at second base last season, and his problems have continued.

He showed poor baserunning judgment in the Dodgers' 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, further eroding the confidence of his teammates and coaches. Guerrero still is struggling to get comfortable, and the situation isn't good for him or the Dodgers.

"When you start out like we have, when you're not scoring runs, every mistake you make is bigger," said Manager Bill Russell, whose team is 1-4 going into today's home opener against the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We just can't afford to do the things we've been doing and expect to win consistently. Everyone has to play sound, fundamental baseball."

Several Dodgers have made fundamental mistakes in the first five games, and Russell didn't single out Guerrero. But the Dodgers are concerned about his apparent lack of progress.

Hitting for pitcher Hideo Nomo, he struck out in the fifth inning on Friday but was safe at first on a wild pitch by Red starter David Weathers. He tried to take second--and was thrown out by catcher Eddie Taubensee.

Eric Young then singled to center with two out, and Thomas Howard struck out to end the inning with Mike Piazza on deck.

"We all have to think more out there," Piazza said. "We're not capitalizing on opportunities, so we have to do more things right."

Although Guerrero is among the fastest players on the team, Russell won't use him often as a pinch-runner because he doesn't inspire confidence in those situations. He worked in left and center field during spring training but he isn't ready to play either position regularly.

"All Wilton needs is time," coach Manny Mota said. "Wilton is doing a good job, he just needs to relax and he'll be fine."

Guerrero's hitting has kept him on the 25-man roster. Despite his other problems as a rookie, he batted .291 with four home runs and 32 runs batted in. He also hit nine triples, which tied him for third in the National League, but is hitless in three at-bats as a pinch-hitter this season.

"He's a hitter, we saw that last year, and he has speed that a lot of guys don't have," Russell said. "He's a good kid who works hard."

Guerrero was reportedly among the players the Montreal Expos sought for shortstop Mark Grudzielanek during the off-season.

But it doesn't seem likely that Guerrero will be traded as long as Fred Claire, executive vice president, is making personnel decisions. Claire is Guerrero's biggest supporter in the organization, and believes Guerrero has the potential to become a standout.

But where will he do that?

"We don't have a spot for him right now," Claire said. "It's a tough situation for him, and it's a tough situation for us.

"But we're going to continue to support Wilton, and handle the situation internally. We'll just have to see what happens."

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