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DODGERS vs. ANGELS

Beltre Contributes Immediately; Bonilla Polyp Is Benign

June 25, 1998|CHRIS FOSTER and JASON REID

Tom Lasorda is not one to waste time, and the new Dodger player-personnel chief didn't wait long to make his first bold move.

On Lasorda's recommendation, the Dodgers on Tuesday purchased the contract of double-A third baseman Adrian Beltre, whom scouts consider among the top prospects in the minor leagues.

The promotion of Beltre, 20, was yet another eye-opening move in season of Dodger surprises, because most within the organization believed he wouldn't arrive in Los Angeles until 1999 at the earliest.

But Lasorda is in charge now, so it's not business as usual.

"Everybody wants to talk about it being too [soon] to bring him here, but what's too soon?" Lasorda asked. "This kid has got talent, and he's got everything he needs to be here. That's why he's here."

He's also here because veteran third baseman Bobby Bonilla is on the 15-day disabled list because of an intestinal infection that physicians initially feared could be cancer-related. And with the way the Dodgers have played, it's not as if Beltre will hurt their playoff chances.

Following the lead of the interim general manager, new Dodger Manager Glenn Hoffman put Beltre to work quickly. Beltre started at third base Wednesday night in the Dodgers' 11-inning, 6-5 victory over the Angels in an interleague game at Dodger Stadium.

Beltre had a run-scoring double in his first major league at-bat against Angel left-hander Chuck Finley, and was two for five with an RBI, including an infield single in the 11th.

"We're going to give him a chance to see what he can do," Hoffman said. "But we're not expecting a 20-year-old to be the one who turns us around."

Beltre is the Dodgers' first player to jump from double A to the major leagues without previous big-league experience since Mariano Duncan in 1985. In 64 games for the Missions, Beltre was batting .321 (79 for 246) with 13 home runs, 21 doubles, 56 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases.

He could become a Dodger fixture at third base before his 21st birthday, or soon find himself on a return flight to San Antonio. It's all up to him--and Beltre welcomes the challenge.

"I know I can play here, I feel I'm ready right now, physically and mentally," said Beltre, whose father, Adrian, was a minor league third baseman.

"I'm excited and I feel very happy, because I didn't know this was going to happen now; I thought maybe next season. But I know what I can do, and I want to show everybody what I can do."

Lasorda believes he already knows what to expect from the prized rookie, who was named the 1997 Class-A player of the year by Baseball America after he batted .317 (138 for 435) with 26 home runs, 104 RBIs and 25 stolen bases for Vero Beach.

He has watched Beltre closely since he signed with the organization as a 16-year-old free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1994. Lasorda frequently visited the Dominican Republic on scouting assignments, and he also received frequent reports on Beltre from Vice President Ralph Avila, who runs the Campo Las Palmas training facility there.

*

Bonilla returned to the team Wednesday after a biopsy performed Sunday in Denver did not reveal cancer.

"He had a polyp removed from his large intestine, and that polyp was found to be benign," said Michael Mellman, team physician.

Bonilla said he has not felt well since the Dodgers acquired him in a seven-player trade May 15. He was hospitalized Saturday at the Rose Medical Center during the team's four-game series against the Colorado Rockies.

*

As part of the team's Think Blue Week, players Wednesday night wore their blue batting-practice jerseys.

They will return to their regular jerseys when the five-game home stand ends Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

*

The Angels have signed Toronto pitcher Erik Hanson, 33, released by the Blue Jays on June 10, to a minor league contract.

TONIGHT'S PITCHERS

DODGERS' DENNIS REYES (0-3, 4.50 ERA) vs. ANGELS' STEVE SPARKS (2-0, 4.85 ERA)

Dodger Stadium, 7 p.m.

TV--Channel 5. Radio--AM 1150, KRLA (1110), XPRS (1090), KWKW (1330).

* Update--Angel catcher Phil Nevin has a history with the knuckleball, catching it and hitting it. He has caught Sparks' two starts this season, without a passed ball. Sparks also hasn't thrown a wild pitch. "It's a workout," Nevin said. "It's a grind going back there anyway, but even more when you don't know where the ball is going. You stay focused on every pitch. Doing it once in a while is OK with me. If it means winning ballgames, I'll catch one every day." He also doesn't mind hitting them. He homered off Tim Wakefield earlier this season. "I also have a couple off Sparks," Nevin said. "He plunked me too, and not with a knuckleball. I let him know about that when he got here." Reyes is making his second start this season. He gave up four runs in 4 2/3 innings at Colorado last Saturday.

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