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These Dodger Kids Are On The Ball
Jim Kaplan
July 30, 1984
Slumping or injured veterans laid L.A. low, but now its youngsters are keeping the team afloat in the NL West
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July 30, 1984

These Dodger Kids Are On The Ball

Slumping or injured veterans laid L.A. low, but now its youngsters are keeping the team afloat in the NL West

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So enter the kids. Or in Hershiser's case, almost exit. Hershiser is of German derivation. Orel is an old family name that may have originated in a city in the Soviet Union. And Orel Leonard Hershiser IV isn't your everyday can't-miss pitching prospect. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J. and the Detroit suburb of South-field, Mich., Hershiser was an excellent hockey player; in 1974-75 he skated with the Philadelphia Flyers Junior A team. "Hockey's good for a pitcher's legs," says Orel III, a semiretired part owner of a printing company who has seen his son win his last four games. "He hasn't seen me give up a run yet," says Orel IV, who was the Dodgers' 17th-round draft pick in 1979. He subsequently spent 4� years in the minors, and even after making the big club this spring he was almost sent back to Albuquerque seven weeks ago.

"I was overawed just being in the big leagues," Hershiser says. "It showed in my pitching. After I lost 8-1 to Atlanta on June 7, [pitching coach Ron] Perranoski told me, 'You're giving big league hitters too much credit. You're trying to strike them out on the first pitch instead of getting two strikes first.' After a lot of tears and frustration and prayers with my wife, Jamie, I started pitching well."

To say the least. In his last four starts Hershiser has struck out 37 batters and walked only four while beating the Cubs 7-1, the Pirates 9-0, the Cubs 8-0 (on a two-hitter with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field) and the Cardinals 10-0. For the season he has a 6-3 record and a 2.82 ERA, but as a starter he's 4-1, 1.52.

"I stopped using my split-fingered fastball, which was ruining my release point and causing me to drop my arm, and started using my [93-mph] sinker and curve—the pitches that got me here," he says. "And from that point, I went at the hitters. When I rub the ball on the mound, all I stare at is the mound and the dirt in front of it. Then I slowly raise my eye level to the grass and home plate until I get to the catcher's glove."

Hershiser specializes in getting batters to hit ground balls, and with Rivera and Anderson behind him, they, in turn, become easy outs. "German reminds me of Clete Boyer and Brooks Robinson," says Lasorda, ever the optimist. "He's quick from the waist up, and that's what a good third baseman needs to be."

Except for a fling as a minor league shortstop in 1981 and '82, Rivera has been a third baseman since his Little League days 14 years ago in Carolina, Puerto Rico—Roberto Clemente's hometown. Fearing that Rivera would be unable to overcome a tendency to overswing at the plate, L.A. left him unprotected in the winter of '82 and lost him to Oakland. When he failed to make the A's, the Dodgers repurchased him for $12,500. Watching Rivera take batting practice one night, Lasorda called out, "Corto, r�pido [short, fast]." That night Rivera hit two doubles and a triple and raised his average from .211 to .237.

Russell raves about Anderson. "He's a natural," says the 16-year veteran who's hitting .293 while training Anderson to take over the position full-time. "He's got everything but experience." Even so, Anderson has learned a lot in parts of two seasons. "First, you have to get over the feeling of being in the big leagues," Anderson says. "Then you have to learn the hitters and how to play aggressively all the time. That can be toughest when you feel good. You often have your best day when you feel awful, because you make yourself concentrate."

When Marshall and Brock were injured in May, Stubbs, who had been called up from Albuquerque on June 22, began winning games with homers or losing them with errors. "I've been called hero, goat—every word you can think of," he says. "It's just a question of doing your job. The pressure can get to a young player; you have to relax and realize it will all even out."

For the record: R.J. Reynolds doesn't smoke, but he wields a smoking bat and plays a matchless centerfield. After coming up last September, he beat the Braves in a key game with a suicide squeeze. "I look at the majors as easier than the minors," he says. "In the minors, you're trying to run up power stats: Production gets you promotion. Here, you just find what you can do and do it. My job is to get on base."

Although he's still fighting the tendency to pitch across his body, Howell showed his potential by striking out three Cubs with the bases loaded on June 30. "I studied special education and child psychology at Tuskegee," he says. "It's helped my pitching. There are guys who worry about how they'll do out there, and some who can't go out there. Life isn't hitting .300 or a 3.00 ERA."

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