Dodger General Manager Fred Claire has searched so long and far for lefthanded pitching that he likes to say, "I can tell you every lefthander on every 40-man roster in baseball, or pretty darn close." He would prefer to correct the gross imbalance of his own staff, which leans more to the right than Rush Limbaugh, but he's not going to revamp his roster just to secure a southpaw.
"In a perfect world you'd like a balance," he says, "but it depends more on the quality of the pitcher than which arm he throws with." The 1993 Dodgers went a long way toward disproving the popular notion that lefthanded pitching is absolutely necessary for success. L.A. used only two lefties—relievers Omar Daal and Steve Wilson—for a total of 61 innings, yet still finished third in the majors in team ERA (3.50) and had an 18-victory improvement over 1992 to reach .500.
Manager Tommy Lasorda and pitching coach Ron Perranoski, lefthanders themselves, did not send a single lefty starter to the mound last year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since World War II only four other clubs have done that: the 1974 Braves, the '83 Blue Jays, the '84 Tigers and the '92 Athletics. All of them had at least 88 wins.
Moreover, the Los Angeles righthanded starters proved remarkably durable. Orel Hershiser, Tom Candiotti, Kevin Gross, Ramon Martinez and Pedro Astacio never missed a turn. Each of them made at least 30 starts. Only two other teams in major league history had five pitchers make 30 or more starts: the 1977 Dodgers and the 1980 Athletics.
"What really helps us is having Candiotti," Claire says of the knuckleball pitcher. "Our opponents aren't seeing the same thing every night. He gives you a totally different look, so it has the effect of a lefthander." Candiotti has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past two years, with a 3.06 ERA and a better than 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while throwing 417‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. Still, he is just 19-25 in that time, primarily because of rotten run support. In 1992 his teammates scored 3.23 runs per game for him, the second-lowest support in the league. They were even less accommodating last season, giving him only 2.53 runs per game—worst in the majors.
His support should be improved this season now that the Dodgers have, in the words of Claire, "three new players in the lineup." They would be second baseman Delino DeShields, who was acquired in a trade with Montreal, rookie right fielder Raul Mondesi and leftfielder Darryl Strawberry. Of course Strawberry is not so much new as he is factory-reconditioned. After missing all but 75 games over the past two years because of a back injury, he comes with no guarantees.
Strawberry is the one player who, by himself, can make the difference between mediocrity and contention for the Dodgers. Otherwise, the pitching stall is again the teams strength, especially with the 24-year-old Astacio (7-3. 1.82 in his last 11 starts) on the verge of becoming a star and with Darren DreiFort, 21, and Chan Ho Park, 20, displaying similar potential. Naturally, as befits an organization that hasn't produced an established lefthanded starter since Fernando Valenzuela, the kids are all right.
BEN VAN HOOK
L.A.'s recent run of fine rookies bodes a bright future for Mondesi.