Remember the sweet passion of Fernandomania? That was back before the NLRB, the pool concept and the Secretary of Labor wormed their way onto the sports pages. Thank goodness Valenzuela is back, and though the kid got lit up a few times, there's no reason to think he can't win again. The Dodgers certainly need him. Davey Lopes, who'll be the starting All-Star second baseman, was hitting .169, and Shortstop Bill Russell was only slightly better at .196. Lopes had an injured ankle and Russell had hand and wrist injuries. First Baseman Steve Garvey, playing with a painful wrist, was hitting only .279. If not for Valenzuela (9-4, 2.45 ERA), Jerry Reuss (5-2, 1.90) and Burt Hooton (7-3, 2.97), the Dodgers wouldn't have won the coveted spring championship. Now Garvey, Russell and Lopes are all close to full strength.
The Reds benefit from the recovery of Johnny Bench, who would have been lost for approximately the same period that baseball was. A healthy Bench joining George Foster (14 HRs, 49 RBIs) and Dave Concepcion (44 RBIs, .306) could give Cincinnati that Old Red Magic again. A jazz festival had booked Riverfront Stadium last week, so the Reds bopped over to the University of Michigan facilities in Ann Arbor. Houston Manager Bill Virdon was thinking of using J.R. Richard to pitch in an exhibition game this week. Richard has made remarkable progress in recovering from his stroke the past two months, and his return would be a physical and spiritual boost to the Astros, who were sluggish in the spring. And back is Mike Ivie, the first baseman who had been hospitalized for mental exhaustion. The bad news is that only 23 of Houston's 53 games will be in the Astrodome, where the Astros traditionally shine.
The Padres appeared to be in better physical condition than most clubs, although Juan Tyrone Eichelberger, their best pitcher (6-3, 2.80 ERA), came down with a slight case of tendinitis from painting his house. The Giants were one of the few clubs to indicate they might bring in a lot of minor-leaguers. Manager Frank Robinson would like to call up Outfielder Jeff Leonard, who's batting close to .400 for Phoenix, Outfielder Chili Davis, .330, and First Baseman Rich Murray, Eddie's brother, .330. The Braves are also thinking of calling up some minor-leaguers, one of whom is a Richmond outfielder romantically named Brett Butler. His appearance would be appropriate in a season that was nearly gone with the wind.
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