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There was a time when the Dodgers could lose a top-quality starting pitcher, pull a replacement from Triple A and keep winning. But that's no longer the case, especially when the injured starter is Orel Hershiser. Indeed, the only team that would be hurt more by the loss of its ace is Boston, which as of Sunday was 4-1 in games in which Roger Clemens had started and 6-7 in others.
Hershiser, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder last Friday, is nicknamed Bulldog, and with good reason. He had not missed a turn since joining L.A.'s rotation in 1984—that's 195 straight starts. He also led the National League in innings pitched in each of the last three years; he was the first pitcher to do that since the Braves' Phil Niekro in 1977 through '79. Says Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia, "Orel means much more to us than starting every fifth day. His presence sprinkles down to the rest of the rotation."
Never mind that L.A. threw three shutouts between April 22 and 29; the rotation of Tim Belcher, Fernando Valenzuela, Ramon Martinez, Mike Morgan and John Wetteland isn't up to the Dodgers' traditionally high standards. Belcher (1-2, 4.45 ERA at week's end) has tremendous potential, but Valenzuela has lost arm speed and, until a 5-0 victory over the Cubs last Friday, had gone 71 starts without throwing a shutout. Morgan was 3-0 going into the game against Chicago on Sunday—the first time in his four-season big league career that he had been three games over .500. After losing to the Cubs 4-0, he's a mere 36 games under .500 for his career. Martinez (2-0, 2.25) threw two complete games last week, but at 22, he remains an unknown quantity. Ditto for the 23-year-old Wetteland, who has been promoted from the bullpen to replace Hershiser. As a rookie in '89 he averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. However, he threw 16 wild pitches in 31 appearances, and was 2-6 with a 4.97 ERA as a starter. Because Wetteland hasn't added an off-speed pitch to his repertoire, several members of the Dodger front office think he should have remained a reliever.
The bullpen could definitely use him, particularly now that closer Jay Howell, who had 28 of L.A.'s 36 saves in 1989, is on the 21-day DL after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. Don Aase has taken over as the closer, but that's quite a responsibility for a guy with almost as many releases (two) as saves (three) over the last two years. What's more, the Dodgers can't expect to get much help from their Triple A team in Albuquerque. Do you think Los Angeles is second-guessing its decision not to re-sign lefthander John Tudor, who at week's end was 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA for St. Louis?
The real second-guessing, however, involves Hershiser. He was deeply involved in this year's labor negotiations and was among those who urged the players not to work out during the lockout. Early in March, two weeks before the settlement, he said that he hadn't done any throwing and that he wouldn't be ready to pitch on Opening Day. But he pitched anyway, giving up one run on three hits in six innings. Now we find out that he had felt some shoulder stiffness in spring training and hadn't told anyone about it. After struggling against the Cardinals in his fourth start, on April 25, Hershiser said he felt fine. The next day, however, the pain was so intense that he asked for an examination, and last Thursday he tearfully announced the results.
Five years ago, if Hershiser had suffered this much damage to his pitching shoulder-stretched ligaments, a torn rotator cuff and a damaged anterior labrum (a cartilaginous ring that adds to the stability of the shoulder socket)—he wouldn't have had much hope of ever pitching again. But his surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, used a new procedure that he had employed successfully on golfer Jerry Pate and former San Diego quarterback Jim McMahon. Rather than cut through the shoulder muscles to reach the ligaments underneath, as surgeons had done in the past, Jobe employed small retractors to separate the muscle fibers and expose the damaged area, so that the muscles would remain intact after the reconstruction was completed. Jobe is optimistic about Hershiser's chances for making a full recovery by next season.
"With only three weeks of spring training, it was inevitable that there would be an injury to a pitcher," says Belcher. "The lockout turned out to be a big mistake. The owners didn't break the union or change the structure of the agreement. You may not be able to blame it all on the lockout. Orel has been a major leaguer for eight years. But every year he had six weeks to get ready, and this spring he didn't. You'd have to say the lockout is a leading suspect."
Some of the blame also must go to the leaders of the Players Association, Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, both of whom advised players not to train during the lockout. That ridiculous idea was designed to show the owners that the players were in no hurry to return to work. Perhaps someone should have told Fehr and Orza about the spring-training lockout of 1976. That year the players were off for 17 days, but no one instructed them to remain idle.
Hershiser's injury didn't come on one pitch; it apparently was the result of years of wear and tear, so proving that the lockout had anything to do with it is difficult. Still, the rash of injuries to pitchers this spring can't just be a coincidence. Here are some of the other pitchers who have been on the disabled list or have been slowed by injuries: Jose Alvarez, Larry Andersen, Danny Darwin, Ken Dayley, John Dopson, Kelly Downs, Wes Gardner, Teddy Higuera, Bob Kipper, Ben McDonald, Pascual Perez, Jose Rijo, Don Robinson, Dave Schmidt, Rick Sutcliffe, Scott Terry and Mark Williamson. "Of course the lockout has something to do with the injuries," says one American League general manager. "It just goes to show you what can happen when the two sides act like total idiots."