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3 Los Angeles Dodgers Comebacks have to be the big story for a team with a dominant rotation--if healthy

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

Table of Contents
March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

3 Los Angeles Dodgers Comebacks have to be the big story for a team with a dominant rotation--if healthy

Dr. Phil couldn't have arranged a better therapy session.
Encountering his first live batter this spring since being struck
in the forehead by a line drive last September, lefthander
Kazuhisa Ishii found himself facing Astros outfielder Brian
Hunter--the same man who had hit the ball that caused Ishii's
season-ending skull fracture. In the off-season the question had
shadowed Ishii like the band of Japanese reporters who trace his
every step: How would he handle the mental aspect of facing
hitters after an injury similar to the one that derailed the
career of Boston's Bryce Florie three years ago?

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

Here's how: On Ishii's fourth pitch of spring training Hunter
ripped a hard one-hopper right back at the pitcher, who without
flinching leaped to snag the ball, albeit unsuccessfully. That
was the only hit Ishii allowed in a sharp two-inning performance.
"I was nervous," he said after the game, "but I was able to
answer some questions today."

The Dodgers haven't had a 20-game winner since 1990, but they hope
that Ishii's smooth recovery portends a reversal of fortune for a
staff that has been decimated by injuries in recent years. Last
season L.A. had more money tied up in five starting pitchers
($42.6 million) than seven major league teams spent on their
entire payrolls--yet the Dodgers' three highest-paid starters
(Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort and Andy Ashby) combined for only a
dozen wins.

After signing a four-year, $12.2 million deal in February 2002,
Ishii got off to a dazzling 8-1 start. Then he lost nine of his
last 15 decisions, had a 5.57 ERA after the AllStar break and
finished as the NL leader in walks (106). "The first half was a
case of ignorance is bliss," says pitching coach Jim Colborn.
"His initial success was a residue of what he had accomplished in
Japan. Then things caught up to him. Batters adjusted, and he
began to get a sense of everything around him, including the
pressures."

Colborn worked with Ishii on compacting and slowing his
motion--particularly his right shoulder movement--to maintain
consistency. The 29-year-old has also developed a cut fastball and
a changeup to complement his two signature pitches, a low-90s
fastball with nasty movement and a knee-buckling curve.

Ishii says he has also adapted to the little things that bothered
him last year, such as the feel of the baseballs (in Japan
they're slightly smaller) and the mounds (in Japan they're packed
more softly). "I also know who my teammates are now and where to
get things in the clubhouse," he says, "and that's a big help
too." The mellow Ishii dismissed the Dodgers' suggestion that he
seek counseling after being struck in the head. He says he's
never been more relaxed, especially after his wife, Ayako Kisa,
and son, Kanta, decided that they would move to Los Angeles later
this year. "You see a big difference," says catcher Paul Lo Duca.
"There's a calm that wasn't there last year."

Two other starters returning from injury are Brown and Dreifort,
who have come to represent why lucrative, long-term contracts for
pitchers are such a high risk. The Dodgers know better than to
get too enthused about Brown's seemingly good health this spring.
Over the last two years the 38-year-old righthander, who signed a
seven-year, $105 million deal after the 1998 season, has had
elbow and back surgery and started only 29 games. Since signing a
five-year, $55 million contract after the 2000 season, Dreifort
has had two elbow operations and four victories. This spring the
30-year-old righthander threw 94-mph fastballs and breaking balls
that were as sharp as ever. "After the elbow surgery [in 2001],"
says Dreifort, "I went back to the basics. Rehab was a chance for
me to get rid of all the bad habits I'd developed." Dreifort used
to step across his body in his delivery, but now he directs his
follow-through toward home plate. The change has stabilized his
upper body and allowed him to throw with improved velocity and
command.

Brown, Dreifort and Ishii join Hideo Nomo and Odalis Perez in the
rotation, pushing nine-game winner Ashby into the bullpen. "Just
thinking about what our starting pitching is capable of has all
of us juiced up," says Lo Duca. "If they're healthy, we have the
best pitching staff out there." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO WRONG TURN After a breakthrough 25homer, 90-RBI season in 2001, Lo Duca's production fell off dramatically last year.COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES ISHII

IN FACT

Last season Kazuhisa Ishii (106) and Hideo Nomo (101) became the
first pair of Dodgers to each walk 100 batters in a season
since Joe Hatten (110) and Kirby Higbe (107) in 1946.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dodgers

"I REALLY like their pitching, and with the offense they're going
to run out there they're going to need it.... Hideo Nomo knows
how to pitch, and Odalis Perez has emerged as a reliable guy.
Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort look healthy. Brown's velocity
isn't up where it was a couple of years ago, but it's still good
enough to keep hitters honest. He stays out of the middle of the
plate, and the splitter remains his out pitch. Kazuhisa Ishii is
a high fastball pitcher who lives and dies with whether he can
get his curveball over. It's a very big hook, and when he can
throw it for strikes he changes a hitter's eye level.... Fred
McGriff can still be productive against bad pitching, but his bat
has slowed, and against the better teams he's in trouble.... Paul
Lo Duca is a good gap hitter but has no power. Brian Jordan has
not hit for a lot of power in the past few years.... Cesar
Izturis catches the ball very well at shortstop, but he's not an
offensive threat. At best he just puts the ball into play....
Adrian Beltre looks bad defensively and hasn't had a real good
spring at the plate either. He doesn't look like he's in good
shape.... This team does not have an exceptional amount of speed,
so it won't be manufacturing a lot of runs."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Roberts
C Lo Duca
RF Green
LF Jordan
1B McGriff
3B Beltre
SS Izturis
2B Thurston

DAVE ROBERTS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 158 .277 3 34 45

PAUL LO DUCA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 79 .281 10 64 3

SHAWN GREEN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 16 .285 42 114 8

BRIAN JORDAN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 105 .285 18 80 2

FRED MCGRIFF [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 47 .273 30 103 1

ADRIAN BELTRE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 98 .257 21 75 7

CESAR IZTURIS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 254 .232 1 31 7

JOE THURSTON* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 228 .334 12 55 22

BENCH

TODD HUNDLEY [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 273 .211 16 35 0

DARYLE WARD [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 203 .276 12 72 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Odalis Perez 32 15 10 6.9 0.99 3.00
RH Hideo Nomo 36 16 6 6.5 1.32 3.39
LH Kazuhisa Ishii 75 14 10 5.5 1.58 4.27
RH Kevin Brown 65 3 4 4.9 1.43 4.81
RH Darren Dreifort** 139 4 7 5.9 1.44 5.13

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Eric Gagne 13 4 1 52 0.86 1.97
RH Paul Quantrill 207 5 4 1 1.37 2.70
RH Paul Shuey 220 8 2 1 1.28 3.31

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
**2001 stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

92-70
third in NL West

MANAGER

Jim Tracy
third season with Los Angeles