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For Dodgers, It's Road to Recovery

Baseball: Despite blister and bullpen trouble, L.A. takes two of three games against Reds, 4-3.

May 28, 1999|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CINCINNATI — The Dodgers came accustomed to playing through turmoil last season.

Apparently, the experience helped.

The Dodgers defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, for the second time in as many days Thursday afternoon at Cinergy Field, taking two of three in the series after a coaching staff shake-up.

Popular pitching coach Charlie Hough was fired Wednesday and replaced by Claude Osteen. Coaches Rick Dempsey and Glenn Hoffman swapped the third base and bullpen jobs, respectively, in the surprising moves that were intended to jump-start the struggling team.

The Dodgers, 24-22 after winning for only the fourth time in 11 games, are off to a good start on their nine-game trip, providing some comforting news for Manager Davey Johnson.

"It has been a tough couple of days," Johnson said. "This team has got a lot of character and heart, and it played hard the whole series.

"We messed up behind Brownie [starter Kevin Brown in a 3-2 loss in the opener], but we kept grinding every game. We needed this going into [a three-game series against Atlanta]. This was good."

First baseman Eric Karros hit his seventh home run--a fourth-inning solo shot--and starter Ismael Valdes (5-2) pitched well before leaving after five innings because of recurring blisters on his right middle finger. The Dodger bullpen had some problems, but three relievers preserved the victory in front of 21,836.

"I'm used to it [the blisters]," Valdes said. "At the same time, I would like to go deeper into the game."

Valdes gave up two runs and four hits. The right-hander struck out six without a walk.

The blisters are caused because of how he grips the ball. He said he plans to use an acrylic nail on his middle finger, which he did in 1996, in hopes of controlling the problem.

After Pedro Borbon relieved Valdes and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, Alan Mills struggled with his control. He walked four in 1 2/3 innings, and the Reds cut the lead to 4-3 in the eighth on Mills' two-out wild pitch.

The Reds also had the tying and go-ahead runs on the corners. However, Mills escaped the jam by striking out pinch-hitter Hal Morris swinging.

Enter closer Jeff Shaw in the ninth. Shaw retired the first two batters he faced but then got into a jam. The Reds had runners on first and second with Sean Casey up, but Casey (batting .377) flied out to center to end the game. Shaw earned his 10th save in 11 opportunities.

"Every day is not going to be a cakewalk," Shaw said. "Sometimes you're going to struggle. But any time you can get two out of three in a series, especially the leadoff series for us, that's a good start to a trip."

The new Dodger batting order again provided support.

On Wednesday, Johnson put center fielder Devon White in the leadoff spot and moved second baseman Eric Young, who usually bats atop the order, to the second spot before a 9-3 victory over the Reds. White and Young combined for four hits, four runs and two runs batted in that game, so Johnson kept Young in the No. 2 spot. Todd Hollandsworth, starting in center in place of White, batted leadoff Thursday.

Young had a two-run double in the Dodgers' three-run fifth inning, helping them take a 4-2 lead. White replaced Hollandsworth, who suffered a strained rib cage, in the bottom of the fifth.

Johnson likes his new lineup.

"I had a conversation with E.Y. on the plane [to Cincinnati] the other day and he said, 'How about me batting second and Devo batting leadoff?' " Johnson said. "E.Y. was still injured [with a bruised left ankle]. I told him as soon as he got back, let's do it.

"E.Y. has been my sparkplug and I've had problems with my two guy, so this might be the thing to get us started. These two guys in the one and two holes are the best scenarios we've got."

* NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Kevin Malone says he is not actively pursuing a trade involving Eric Karros. Page 10

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