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Dizziness overcame him, then lightheadedness, and oh, the swaying. Rookie reliever Ken Howell nearly fainted last June the first time the Dodgers' bullpen phone tolled for him. He splashed some water on his face and walked out to his first major league appearance "shaking like the devil."
The stage fright didn't last long, though. In his second appearance the Cubs had loaded the bases with no outs. Nothing like bringing a rookie along slowly. He struck out the side: Keith Moreland, Ron Cey and Jody Davis.
Howell pitched a half season for the infirmary known as the 1984 Dodgers. At one time or another, 15 players were on the disabled list. When Tom Niedenfuer's kidney stones flared up, the 6'3", 200-pound Howell got his chance. Though Howell didn't think he was ready, batters like Atlanta's Dale Murphy soon thought otherwise. "I hadn't heard any scouting reports on him," says Murphy, who knows a phenom when he sees one. "But after I faced him once, I didn't need any scouting reports. He got me good." Murphy struck out both times he faced Howell.
Says Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski, "Kenny didn't just get along. He was outstanding. The tougher the situation, the better he did."
The whole year was a tough situation for the fourth-place Dodgers, who slumped to last in the league in run production. "The whole meat of the lineup had an off year," says manager Tommy Lasorda. "A lot of people say the Dodgers did nothing to help themselves over the winter. They're wrong. If we have Steve Howe all year, and people stay healthy, those are huge additions."
With Howe coming back from arm surgery ("This isn't arthroscopic, this is filet," said Howe, showing his scar) and Niedenfuer rumored to be on the trading block for a third baseman—thus allowing Pedro (Oops) Guerrero to return to the outfield—Howell may be answering a lot of calls in the bullpen.
Howell, a soft-spoken 24-year-old native of Detroit, was overpowering in the Dominican Winter League, where his 95-mile-per-hour fastball and 87-mile-per-hour slider earned him the name El Monstruo—The Monster. "There wasn't a batter in the Dominican who wasn't scared of Howell," says Dodger scout Rafael Avila. He set a winter league record with 16 saves.
But the statistic best suited to Howell is the strikeouts-to-walks ratio. "It's unbelievable," says Perranoski. Last season Howell struck out 54 in 51.1 innings and walked nine—five intentionally.
With the loss of starter Alejandro Pena (12-6) to shoulder surgery, the bullpen will be even more vital to L.A. in '85. In an ideal situation, Howe will provide short relief from the left, Howell and Niedenfuer, if he's still around, from the right. "Every time I go into a game, Tommy taps me and says, 'Go get 'em Raven, let's fly,' " says Howell. Lasorda figures if San Diego has the Goose, then the Dodgers need a Raven.
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