Tommy Lasorda launches his 15th spring as Dodger manager in something of a good news-bad news quandary.
"I have no idea who's going to play second base, third base or shortstop," he said, reciting the bad first. "But," he went on, "I also know we've got people capable of playing those positions. It's a matter of finding out which one."This is going to be a very interesting spring. We're going to see all our guys, play them (in exhibition games) as much as possible, then decide."
And, Lasorda added, he won't be at all bashful about starting a rookie at any or all three of those key infield positions, if that's what's dictated by the time spring training ends.
"When Steve Howe was here, we didn't ask him how old he was or how much experience he had," Lasorda said, recalling the former Dodger reliever who won a roster spot one spring, then went on to become the National League Rookie of the Year in 1980. "He showed us in the spring he could do the job and that's what we went on. And that's what we'll do now."
The matchups are these:
At second base, veteran Juan Samuel, coming off a disappointing 1990 season, vs. rookie Greg Smith, obtained over the winter from the Chicago Cubs, or maybe Lenny Harris, who was part of a successful third base platoon in 1990.
At shortstop, the veteran, Alfredo Griffin, against rookie Jose Offerman, The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1990.
And, at third base, there are several options. One is the return of Jeff Hamilton, who played only a handful of games last year before undergoing shoulder surgery, which has been slow to heal. There's the 1990 platoon, Harris and Mike Sharperson. And there's another rookie, Dave Hansen of Long Beach, who had a strong 1990 season at Albuquerque (.316, 11 HR, 92 RBIs).
About the risk of starting a rookie - the Dodgers haven't had a rookie win an infield job since Mariano Duncan in 1985 - Lasorda, talking mostly about Offerman, said:
"A ground ball is a ground ball. If you can catch one on the playground you can catch one on the baseball field, I don't care if it's a major league field or D ball.
"With Jose, the other things are what are important. There's no doubt he can play shortstop. He's got good hands, a good arm, good range. But . . . how WELL can he play shortstop? Can he play championship shortstop? These are the things we'll try to find out in the spring.
"And, something else to consider, we don't know what Griffin feels about all this."
So far, only the pitchers and catchers are in camp. The rest of the club works out for the first time on Wednesday.
Figuring out his starting rotation will be enough of a chore for Lasorda. Right now he's got 10 potential starters for five spots, and that's not even counting Orel Hershiser. It breaks down this way: Ramon Martinez, Tim Belcher and free agent acquisition Kevin Gross will make up three-fifths of the rotation. That leaves Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Ojeda, Mike Morgan and Dennis Cook, plus Jim Neidlinger, Mike Hartley and John Wetteland to settle the two remaining spots. John Candelaria? He's here, too, only as a non-roster candidate for the bullpen.
Even figuring out who'll back up starting catcher Mike Scioscia will require a major decision. Will it be Gary Carter or Barry Lyons, both former teammates with the Mets?
"We've never had things quite like this, not that I can remember," Lasorda said of all the major decisions ahead. "Usually, our camps are set, one, two positions, maybe, but nothing like this."
One area that certainly is set is the outfield: Kal Daniels in left, Brett Butler in center and Darryl Strawberry in right. If Lasorda doesn't think so, executive Vice President Fred Claire does; he spent a staggering $8.025 million of Peter O'Malley's money to put it together.