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Schmidt still under the gun

Dodgers' $47-million would-be ace continues to register radar readings under 90 mph, though he pitches well enough in 13-4 win over the Angels.

March 31, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

There were all kinds of numbers on display at Dodger Stadium on Friday night. The Dodgers put up most of the big ones.

But, as the Dodgers pounded the Angels, 13-4, the most intriguing numbers did not involve runs, hits or errors. They involved the radar gun readings for Jason Schmidt, a string of numbers that consistently started with an 8.

The Dodgers spent $47 million to lure Schmidt, a three-time All-Star, to be their ace, a certified power arm atop their starting rotation. If you believe the Dodger Stadium radar gun -- and the reports from several National League teams that scouted Schmidt in Florida this spring -- they bought a pitcher with a below-average fastball.

The caution light is tempered here by two factors: 1) Schmidt won and the guy with the really live fastball lost; 2) Schmidt laughed off the stadium gun.

"I don't think I've been above 90 here in four years," Schmidt said.

The Dodgers and Angels play each other in the final game of the Freeway Series exhibition series tonight at Angel Stadium, and the regular season starts for both clubs on Monday.

And, to be fair, on Friday the Angels looked like the team with the starting pitching problem. The Dodgers rocked Angels starter Ervin Santana for five runs in the first inning and four more in the third; Santana faced 19 batters and gave up 11 hits.

Wilson Betemit, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp homered for the Dodgers, with Olmedo Saenz driving in three runs on a pair of doubles and Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre collecting three hits apiece.

But back to Schmidt, who is scheduled to start Wednesday at Milwaukee and then start the Dodgers' home opener one week from Monday.

The Dodger Stadium radar gun clocked his fastball consistently at 84-86 mph, with a high of 89 mph. The scoreboard operator, apparently befuddled by the minimal difference in velocity between Schmidt's fastball and off-speed pitches, listed one 83-mph pitch as "fastball" and another as "changeup."

Martin, the Dodgers' catcher, said opposing players have offered unsolicited encouragement about Schmidt's velocity.

"They say he's always like that," Martin said. "He starts slow and picks up velocity throughout the year."

Schmidt needed 72 pitches to complete four innings Friday, giving up two runs -- one earned -- and five hits. He had good movement, whatever the velocity.

"I don't look at that," Schmidt said. "I look at results."

Said Martin: "He had the best stuff he's had all spring. He was locating his pitches well and changing speeds well."

Schmidt concluded spring training with a 2-2 record and 4.50 earned-run average, with 12 walks and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings. Opponents hit .312 against him.

Last season, when he was ace of the San Francisco Giants staff, opponents hit .238 against him. He went 11-9 with a 3.59 ERA, with 80 walks and 180 strikeouts in 213 innings.

The Giants' young pitching star, Matt Cain, throws his fastball into the mid-90s, Schmidt said. But, when the Giants played here last season, Schmidt said the gun clocked Cain about 90 mph.

The concern about diminished velocity is not so much that a pitcher cannot win -- although a power pitcher generally needs time to adjust -- and more that the decreased speed indicates an injury.

On that score, Schmidt insists he is sound.

"If I wasn't, I wouldn't be out there throwing," he said.

"That's a pretty good lineup over there. I was throwing a lot of fastballs tonight. If I was throwing 82 mph, they'd have been in the seats."

*

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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