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Not-So-Artful Dodgers
Tim Crothers
June 23, 1997
L.A.'s bickering players don't look like contenders, One pitcher has Griffey's number, Reds become chessmates
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June 23, 1997

Not-so-artful Dodgers

L.A.'s bickering players don't look like contenders, One pitcher has Griffey's number, Reds become chessmates

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PITCHER, YEAR/TEAM

NO-HIT INNINGS

FIRST HIT

EWELL BLACKWELL, 1947 REDS

8⅓

EDDIE STANKY, DODGERS

NOLAN RYAN, 1973 ANGELS

7

MARK BELANGER, ORIOLES

VIRGIL TRUCKS, 1952 TIGERS

6⅓

BILLY HITCHCOCK, A'S

MIKE SCOTT, 1986 ASTROS

6

WILL CLARK, GIANTS

NOLAN RYAN, 1975 ANGELS

5⅔

HANK AARON, BREWERS

DENNIS ECKERSLEY, 1977 INDIANS

5⅔

RUPPERT JONES, MARINERS

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Dodgers manager Bill Russell was talking to reporters before batting practice at Oakland Coliseum last Thursday night when he was knocked down by a stray baseball. Russell scrambled to his feet and without hesitation mumbled. "Who threw that, one of my pitchers?"

Over a four-day stretch the previous week, Russell had engaged in confrontations with two of his hurlers, Ismael Valdes and Pedro Astacio. Valdes didn't appreciate being pulled for a pinch hitter, and Astacio had to be restrained by coaches in the dugout after Russell had yelled at him during a meeting on the mound. But those were merely the most public battles within this fractured franchise.

Many members of the Los Angeles pitching staff are convinced that Russell, in his first full season on the job, gives preferential treatment to position players and that stars are pampered. On April 26, just 35 minutes after centerfielder Brett Butler held a players meeting to discuss unity, Valdes and first baseman Eric Karros challenged each other in the shower. "This is the toughest thing I've ever been through in baseball," says Russell, who has been in the Dodgers' organization as a player, coach or skipper since 1966.

In spring training many observers believed the Dodgers would dominate the National League West and duel the Braves for the pennant. Instead, at week's end they had lost 20 of their last 30 games and were mired in third place in the West at 32-35. "You could spend every last dime on every world-renowned psychiatrist, and they couldn't figure out this team," Karros says.

The implosion is being conveniently blamed on the makeup of the Dodgers' roster, which includes players from six countries and has perhaps led to some culture conflict and to the communication gap between Russell and his pitchers. But more important, Los Angeles has become a predictable righthanded team. All five starters and the closer throw from the right side, and even though Russell has tried 27 lineups in the last 29 games, he has only righties in the heart of the batting order. The Dodgers are 13th in the 14-team league in on-base percentage and 12th in runs scored. Last Friday outfielder Todd Hollandsworth, the '96 Rookie of the Year, who was batting only .232, was sent to the minors, and lefthanded hitting outfielder Karim Garcia, win) batted .298 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 62 games with Triple A Albuquerque, was called up.

"We've been frustrated in past years, but never like this," says closer Todd Worrell. "I think everybody's fed up. If we keep playing like this, we're going to have one long, miserable year."

Griffey's Nemesis

Six times in his fledgling career Tigers lefthander Justin Thompson has faced Ken Griffey Jr., and all six times Thompson has struck him out. The most lethal hitter in baseball has seen 27 pitches from Thompson, and the results have been eight balls, four foul balls, three called strikes and 12 swinging strikes. "What amazes me is how dominant he was in those strikeouts," says Detroit pitching coach Rick Adair. "That's the best hitter in our league, and he's taking bad swings against a 24-year-old kid with less than a year in the majors. That really puts Justin's talent in perspective."

No other active pitcher has struck out Griffey more than four consecutive times, but Thompson would much rather talk about a 2-0 loss to the Orioles in May because that was his first major league complete game. And while Thompson was tied for sixth in the American League with a 2.81 ERA at week's end, he prefers to point out that he is among the league leaders in innings pitched (99⅓).

His fascination with his workload stems from the times when he couldn't throw at all. He was drafted by the Tigers out of Klein Oak High in Spring, Texas, with the 32nd overall pick in the '91 draft. He progressed quickly through the Detroit farm system, only to suffer an injury to his left elbow in spring training of '94 that knocked him out for the year. He spent the '95 season in the minors but made it to the majors last year—only to injure his left shoulder after two promising starts. He missed five weeks, then came back in August and finished the season with 11 starts and a 4.58 ERA, which on a sorry staff was good enough to qualify him as Detroit's ace.

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