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BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
May 23, 1988
A DEAL IN TIME CAN SAVE A NINE
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May 23, 1988

Baseball

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? New York: pitching and perhaps a shortstop, although the slimmed-down Randy Velarde shows promise at Triple A Columbus. The names of Smith, Houston lefty Bob Knepper and Cincinnati lefty Tom Browning keep coming up, and Ron Guidry may soon be called up from Fort Lauderdale, where he has been recovering from a left rotator cuff injury. Watch general manager Lou Piniella. After all, last winter he obtained Jack Clark, John Candelaria, Don Slaught, Richard Dotson and Rafael Santana and gave up one big league regular: Dan Pasqua.

? Toronto: pitching. The Blue Jays backed off Smith because of his bone spur, but management would still like to shake up a club that acts as if it had a group toothache. Outfielder Jesse Barfield and/or catcher Ernie Whitt could be had for a frontline pitcher. Toronto thinks that with pitching help it can stay close, and when lefties Jimmy Key (elbow) and Jeff Musselman (shoulder) return by August, the team could surge, rather than slide as it did in '87.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

? Cincinnati: another starting pitcher. Since trading for lefty Danny Jackson in the off-season, the team no longer needs a stopper. There are three top mound prospects at Nashville (lefty Norm Charlton and righties Jack Armstrong and Pat Pacillo), but the Reds need a veteran. Unfortunately injuries to first baseman Nick Esasky and outfielder Tracy Jones mean that Cincinnati's trade possibilities are limited.

? Los Angeles: starting pitching. The off-season shake-up rebuilt the bullpen and, as one Dodger official says, " Kirk Gibson and Alfredo Griffin have taught some guys to win." Right now, L.A. thinks its only need is a lefty middle reliever, so it's looking at people like Atlanta's Paul Assenmacher, Cincinnati's Guy Hoffman and Pittsburgh's Bob Patterson. But the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots in the rotation ( Tim Leary, Don Sutton, and Tim Belcher) are still shaky, so by July the Dodgers may be looking for a veteran starter.

? Houston: righthanded power and a reliever. If the Astros' graying starters stay healthy, Houston can win with Hal Lanier's version of Whiteyball. But because Glenn Davis has more homers (nine) than all his teammates combined, the Astros have been inquiring about righthanded hitters, while shopping Knepper and some of their younger position players. The 3-5 bullpen could use help.

? San Francisco: pitching and speed. With injuries to Dave Dravecky and Joe Price, the Giants may need a starter and a reliever. Outfielder Brett Butler has been a major disappointment, stealing only four bases and getting caught seven times, so San Francisco is still looking for someone who can run. With talented lefthanded pitching prospects in the system, Rosen won't have trouble making a deal.

BEARING UP NICELY
Save those Cubbies jokes. Chicago is blossoming as one of the best young teams in baseball. The nucleus includes shortstop Shawon Dunston, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, rookie first baseman Mark Grace and hard-hitting outfielders David Martinez and Rafael Palmeiro. A rival general manager calls the latter "a classic hitter." Chicago has another excellent outfield prospect, Dwight Smith, in Triple A Iowa, and if the Cubs can develop a few more pitchers, they will be right there with the Pirates, breathing hard on the New York Mets in 1989.

WHAT A CARD

The losing pitcher in Saturday's 19-inning Atlanta- St. Louis marathon at Busch Stadium was Jose Oquendo, the Cards' superutility man. Oquendo, who entered the game to play first base in the ninth inning, moved to the mound in the top of the 16th with the score tied 5-5. He pitched three scoreless innings—relying on his split-fingered fastball, he said—before walking two men and surrendering a two-run double to Ken Griffey. (That winning hit, incidentally, was fielded in leftfield by Jose DeLeon, normally a pitcher, who spent the last four innings shuttling between left and rightfield, switching positions 11 times with Tom Brunansky, according to whether a righty or a lefty hitter was at bat.)

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