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Park's Problems Back in Another Strained Effort

Baseball: After being handed an early five-run lead, Dodger starter can't make it out of the fifth inning in 12-6 loss to Marlins.

May 09, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Chan Ho Park believes his back injury may be improving, but he also believes it may be getting worse.

Dodger Manager Bill Russell wonders whether Park should continue to pitch, but he also wonders whether he only needs more innings.

And pitching coach Glenn Gregson is questioning whether Park's problems are physical, mental or both.

Confused?

The Dodgers were as well after Park's performance Friday night in their 12-6 loss to the Florida Marlins before an announced crowd of 27,071 at Pro Player Stadium.

Park lasted only 4 2/3 innings and was charged with six runs as the Marlins rallied from a 5-0 deficit to end their four-game losing streak. He said he didn't experience much pain from his lower back injury, but he couldn't explain his control problems or the dramatic variation in his pitch velocity.

Marlin left-handed rookie starter Jesus Sanchez (2-1) overcame a first-inning grand slam by Todd Zeile, threw what is believed to be a major league season-high 147 pitches--in eight innings--and had a career-high 10 strikeouts in only his fourth start. And the Dodger bullpen continued its recent poor performance as the team dropped back to .500 (17-17), and 4-5 on the 11-game trip.

But their No. 2 starter was their biggest concern Friday, and the Dodgers and Park are still searching for answers.

"I think it's been getting better, it feels better, but I don't know," Park said. "It didn't hurt too much tonight, [it was] just a little bit sore, but I don't know.

"I don't know exactly what I need to do, I don't know what the problem was [against the Marlins]. Maybe it was my back a little, but I felt good and . . . I don't know."

Russell felt about the same.

"He didn't establish any consistency," Russell said. "He was all over the place, and his velocity was up and down.

"But he says he's fine, and that's what we have to go on. We're going to have to address this before his next start, because we need him to give us more innings than this."

The Dodgers staked Park (3-1) to a 5-0 lead--the first four runs scoring on Zeile's sixth career grand slam--but he failed to complete the fifth, as the Marlins scored six runs. Charles Johnson chased Park with a two-out two-run double that tied the score, 5-5.

Park, who has been forced from three games because of back stiffness, threw 93 pitches, 54 for strikes, giving up seven hits with four walks and four strikeouts. Dodger relievers Brad Clontz and Frank Lankford were each charged with three runs as the pitching staff gave up a season-high 12.

The Dodger relievers are also stirring concern. Before the trip, the group was 5-3 with a 1.64 ERA. The bullpen is 1-1 with a 7.03 ERA since.

"Over the course of any season, you're going to have ups and downs," Gregson said. "We got used to seeing [the bullpen] put up zeros, but that's not going to happen all the time."

Park's fastballs were clocked as high as 98 mph--and as low as 88. Gregson was troubled by the variation, and he now believes that Park's problems are at least in part psychological.

"Because his back requires special treatment, he hasn't been able to prepare between starts the way he normally does," Gregson said. "He doesn't feel like he's done the things that he needs to do to pitch, so I almost feel like he's going out there and pacing himself.

"Arm strength is not an issue, and I haven't seen anything in his mechanics to alert me, so I think it's a psychological block right now."

Park didn't disagree with the assessment.

"I spend so much time worrying about my back," said Park, whose earned-run average increased from 3.96 to 4.83.

"I can't run like I like to or work out because [trainers] are worried about my back. I need to worry less about my back, and worry more about pitching and baseball."

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