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ANGEL-DODGER REPORT

Spring Series to Resume

June 14, 2002|Bill Shaikin; Mike DiGiovanna

The Dodgers and Angels are planning to resume their exhibition series as soon as next season, restoring the original Freeway Series that traditionally marked the final weekend of spring training.

An exhibition series that started in 1962 came to an abrupt halt in 1999, when the Dodgers unilaterally reduced the three-game series against the Angels to one game so they could play host to the New York Yankees. The Angels scrambled to fill the final weekend of spring training with games against a college team and a Mexican League team.

The Dodgers and Angels have not met in spring training since, and the Yankees have not returned to attract fans. Both teams drew sparsely during the final weekend of spring training this season, with the Cleveland Indians playing at Dodger Stadium and the Colorado Rockies at Edison Field.

"We think we can generate as much or more interest in a Dodger-Angel exhibition game as we can with any other game," Dodger President Bob Graziano said.

The teams hope to resume the series next season but have deferred any announcement until major league officials complete the 2003 schedule. If the Dodgers are scheduled to open the season on the East Coast, they would prefer not to fly from their spring home in Florida to California for the Freeway Series, then back to the East.

The teams also were concerned that interleague play might diminish the interest in an exhibition series, but the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's have done well playing each other in March and again in the regular season.

"Whether we play six games in the regular season or nine games, including the Freeway Series, I think we'll do well in all of them," said Kevin Uhlich, the Angels' senior vice president of business operations.

Bill Shaikin

*

Left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii (10-1) ranks third in the National League in wins and ninth in strikeouts (73) before tonight's game against the Angels, and the consensus in the Dodger clubhouse is that he has considerable room for improvement.

"I still see him as confused and not totally at ease with American baseball," Dodger pitching coach Jim Colborn said. "But even as I say that, he's 50 times better than he was in spring training. I just don't think we've seen his top hand yet."

Ishii was a wreck in spring training, unable to throw strikes and unable to find a consistent delivery. Control problems have hounded him all season--he ranks third in the league with 46 walks--but his ability to pitch out of jams has put him on pace to become the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez in 1990.

"There will be efforts by other teams to key on him, to make adjustments," Colborn said. "But I'm confident, based on knowing he'll face the same things here that he faced in Japan, that he'll know how to react. In Japan, they know every tendency pitchers have."

Ishii's problems stem more from a lack of focus than stuff. Saturday in Baltimore was a perfect example: He retired the first two batters in the first inning before giving up a walk, a single and a three-run home run. Ishii then found a groove, facing the minimum 15 batters over the next five innings.

Ishii, who has a solid shot of making the All-Star game, seems at his best in tight spots or after he gets a lead in the middle innings.

"His demeanor changes ever so slightly, and his stuff gets crisper," Manager Jim Tracy said. "He gets a lead, and he knows what to do with it."

*

Shortstop Cesar Izturis spent most of the first two months hitting second, and Adrian Beltre hit second for two weeks in late May, but it appears catcher Paul Lo Duca has settled into the No. 2 spot for good.

With the switch-hitting Izturis batting .212 from the left side, Tracy could no longer afford to bat him second against right-handers. Izturis is hitting .324 from the right side, though, so he continues to lead off against left-handers.

"I like what we're doing from a developmental standpoint with Izturis," Tracy said. "We have a No. 2 hitter [Lo Duca] who can drive the ball out of the park, and we can do situational things at the bottom of the order.

"Is it fair to have a 22-year-old kid who is still learning to hit from the left side [bat second]? I want to take the onus off him."

*

Dodger pitcher Kevin Brown, who underwent surgery on a herniated disk in his lower back Tuesday, was released from the hospital Thursday and was resting comfortably at home.

ON DECK

Dodgers vs. Angels, three games.

Site--Dodger Stadium.

Tonight--7.

TV--Channel 13 tonight and Sunday, Fox Sports Net 2 Saturday night.

Radio--KXTA (1150), KWKW (1330), KLAC (570), XPRS (1090).

Records--Dodgers 39-26, Angels 38-25.

2001--Angels won series, 4-2.

TONIGHT

DODGERS'

KAZUHISA

ISHII

(10-1, 3.15 ERA)

vs.

ANGELS'

RAMON

ORTIZ

(6-5, 3.34 ERA)

Update--If history is any indication, the series will be tight. Of the 26 interleague games between the Dodgers and Angels, 13 have been decided by one run, including four of six games last season. The two clubs have not been in first place at the same time past May 1 since Aug. 2, 1997. Ortiz, the Angel right-hander, ranks among the American League top 10 in earned-run average, strikeouts (64) and opponents' batting average (.223), but he also leads the major leagues in home runs given up with 18.

Saturday, 7 p.m.--Odalis Perez (6-3, 2.62) vs. Scott Schoeneweis (5-4, 4.50).

Sunday, 1 p.m.--Hideo Nomo (6-5, 3.60) vs. Jarrod Washburn (6-2, 3.43).

Mike DiGiovanna

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