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Sherrill's independent spirit

August 02, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

ATLANTA — Jeff Weaver used to share a clubhouse with George Sherrill in Seattle, and when he heard Thursday that the Dodgers had acquired the left-hander from the Baltimore Orioles, Weaver said there was no doubt in his mind that the 32-year-old closer would move seamlessly into a setup role.

"He's not taking anything for granted," Weaver said.

Five seasons of playing in independent leagues will do that to a player.

As a college senior at Austin Peay in Tennessee, Sherrill one day slipped on the front porch of his apartment. His left arm went through a window, leaving him with a sizable laceration.

"I don't know if I was going to get drafted," Sherrill said, "but that was the nail in the coffin."

Undrafted but undaunted, Sherrill signed with an independent league team in southern Indiana. He played in South Dakota, Nebraska and had two stints in Canada.

Catching the eye of scouts wasn't easy, especially as a reliever.

"Somebody has to stay long enough to see you," Sherrill said. "It took 4 1/2 years for somebody to find me."

That somebody was the Seattle Mariners. Signed in 2003, Sherrill was in the majors by the next year.

Before last season, he was included in a five-player package the Mariners sent to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitcher Erik Bedard.

Sherrill became an All-Star closer in Baltimore and was nicknamed "The Brim Reaper" by then-teammate Kevin Millar because of his habit of wearing his hat with a flat bill. Sherrill trademarked the nickname last winter.

He made a dream-like debut with the Dodgers on Friday night, when he inherited two runners and a 4-0 lead. He walked one but struck out three to maintain the four-run margin.

Asked whether he ever envisioned himself reaching this point while he was toiling the independent leagues, Sherrill said, "I didn't know what this point was. I just wanted to keep playing. I guess that's why some girlfriends took off."

Sherrill is engaged to be married in November.

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Manny's mini-slump

Manny Ramirez, who was 0 for 3 with a walk in the Dodgers' 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, is hitting .152 in his last eight games, his average dropping from .348 to .310. He is four for 25 in the six games of the Dodgers' current trip.

Ramirez hasn't hit a home run since his pinch-hit grand slam on his bobblehead night at Dodger Stadium on July 22.

"He's working on it," Manager Joe Torre said. "Hitters, they get to thinking about too many things up there. Once you're working on a mechanical thing, you take it to the field with you. You're trying to make sure you're staying in position. It sort of gets in the way."

The problem doesn't appear to be physical.

Ramirez said that his left hand, which was struck by a fastball on July 21, hasn't bothered him.

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Decisions, decisions

The Dodgers have 13 pitchers, a number Torre wants to see reduced.

That will require Torre to make some decisions, as the impending returns of Ronald Belisario and Cory Wade from the disabled list could further crowd the already congested bullpen.

"I don't know how we're going to do that," Torre said.

Belisario threw 20 pitches to Juan Pierre and Juan Castro Saturday and is scheduled to start a minor league rehabilitation assignment Tuesday. Wade threw a scoreless inning for triple-A Albuquerque on Friday.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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DODGERS TONIGHT

AT ATLANTA

When: 5 PDT.

Where: Turner Field.

On the air: TV: ESPN; Radio: 790, 930.

Pitchers: Chad Billingsley vs. Jair Jurrjens.

Update: Billingsley held St. Louis scoreless through five innings Tuesday but unraveled in a six-run sixth that sent the Dodgers on their way to a 10-0 defeat. Billingsley, who turned 25 on Wednesday, has won only once in his last six starts. He averaged less than six innings per outing and had a 6.46 earned-run average in that span. Jurrjens is 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA over his last four starts. The 23-year-old didn't get a decision Tuesday when he gave up two runs in six innings at Florida. Jurrjens is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two career starts against the Dodgers.

-- Dylan Hernandez

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