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Bill Plaschke

They Might Be New Pen Names

March 27, 2003|Bill Plaschke

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Through the haze of a dust-kicking morning in the Dodger bullpen Wednesday, two unlikely figures emerged.

One has an arm like a road map. The other has a back adorned with a deer.

One has played on 22 teams. The other is barely 22 years old.

One was invited to camp only after a tryout. The other was invited only as a body.

Both blew across the Dodger landscape this spring like odd, colorful scraps.

But now it appears one of them will stick.

Dodger fans, meet your new left-handed reliever.

Either No. 79, Tom Martin ...

"This is like some fairy tale," he said, scratching his goatee.

Or No. 64, Steve Colyer ...

"This is really cool," he said, scratching his goatee.

Dodger fans might rely on other words after watching one of these strangers face Luis Gonzalez in the eighth inning on opening day.

Four other words, to be exact.

Are you kidding me?

Dan Evans upgrades his power, rebuilds his bench, tightens his starting rotation, strengthens the middle of his bullpen ... yet grabs something out of the sky for his left-handed short reliever?

"We were never going to bring in a guy just because he holds his toothbrush in his left hand," Evans said. "I think the whole concept of lefty versus lefty is overrated."

So during the off-season he failed to re-sign Jesse Orosco. Then this spring the Dodgers quickly cut Pedro Borbon.

Soon it became frighteningly apparent that they could be the only National League team without a left-handed reliever.

But meanwhile, the two lefties, in 17 1/3 spring innings, were combining to give up only nine hits with 18 strikeouts. At the same time, right-hander Giovanni Carrara was struggling while Andy Ashby was crowding him.

And, finally, common sense prevailed.

Why have two right-handers who do the same thing when you can mix it up with a left-hander? Even if, by now, the best you can do is one with an odd history and a lineman's number?

When the Dodgers released Carrara on Wednesday, it became all but official.

Their eyes wide, their jaws at their shoulders, the charmed ones were on the plane Wednesday as the Dodgers flew west toward the start of a season that will almost certainly include one of them.

"I wouldn't have imagined this in a million years," said Martin, the favorite despite having undergone five operations on his pitching arm.

At the start of camp, Martin, 32, was a youth pitching tutor who enlisted the help of buddy and former teammate Paul Shuey in hopes of getting back into baseball.

Shuey called his Dodger bosses twice before he could convince them to look at the guy.

Said Martin: "He finally beat them into submission."

Martin threw his cleats in his trunk, drove 7 1/2 hours from his Panama City, Fla., home and walked out to a Dodger practice mound in the middle of one February morning.

Paul Lo Duca agreed to catch him.

The tryout lasted all of six minutes.

"They told me to stop, that they had seen enough," Martin said. "I wasn't sure what they meant."

A few minutes later, Vice President Dave Wallace explained.

"He asked me, 'Why are you trying out? You don't need to try out,' " Martin said.

Apparently, his 95-mph stuff was that good.

"I told them," Shuey said, laughing.

Martin, who endured the operations while bouncing around eight organizations, credits last summer's rotator cuff surgery by Dr. James Andrews as one that magically restored his arm.

Sort of like that guy in "The Rookie."

"I have no idea what it is, only that I feel great," he said.

Colyer knows why he feels great.

He is a rookie, in his sixth year in pro ball, but only his second year in the bullpen.

Yeah, the Dodgers' left-handed reliever could be a guy who is barely a reliever, only 59 games, 21 saves, for double-A Jacksonville. He was converted from a starter because of his temperament, sort of like another glaring guy we all know.

"It is a role that seems to suit his personality well," Manager Jim Tracy said.

Indeed, there is 95-mph stuff, the tattoos, the glare, and that Mountain Dew that Colyer was sucking down Wednesday morning.

"I like relieving better than starting, because I like pitching every day," he said. "I like to stay aggressive."

The obvious choice to make the team would seem to be Martin, who fooled Mo Vaughn into a groundout to end an inning against the New York Mets earlier this week.

But perhaps no pitcher in camp has been more overpowering than Colyer, who struck out Timo Perez and Tony Clark to end the same game.

When he returned to the clubhouse afterward, his cell phone contained two voice messages. One was from his mother. The other was from his father.

Back home in Missouri, they had just watched their son play baseball on television for the first time.

"That was pretty neat," he said. "They couldn't stop talking about it."

If Colyer is still with the Dodgers after their Las Vegas stop today, he will be visiting Los Angeles for the first time.

"I told myself I would never go to Dodger Stadium until I made it there as a player," he said.

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