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Depth Wish 2005
2005-01-27 09:53
by Jon Weisman

Though his win-loss record fell from 23-8 in his Cy Young season in 1988 to 15-15 in 1989, Orel Hershiser remained a stalwart for the Dodgers. His ERA rose only from 2.26 to 2.31 and was just as strong relative to the league average.

In his fourth start of 1990, however, Hershiser walked off the mound in the middle of the seventh inning with rotator cuff damage. He would not return for 13 months.

Hershiser's departure opened up a fissure in the Dodger starting rotation of painful duration. While Ramon Martinez, Mike Morgan, Fernando Valenzuela and Tim Belcher combined to make 123 starts, it took eight other pitchers (including Hershiser) to fill the remaining 39 - "fill," in many cases, being a generous term.

  • John Wetteland: Wetteland, who would finish his career with 330 saves - 329 of them after he left the Dodgers - got the first shot at replacing Hershiser after making 12 starts in 31 appearances in 1989. He made three consecutive starts, lasting a combined 11 2/3 innings, though he did manage a five-inning, six-strikeout, one-run performance against Philadelphia on May 6. A few weeks later, he got two more chances, but allowed seven earned runs in seven innings combined.

    Wetteland returned to the bullpen for the rest of his career June 5. Between June 5 and the end of the 1991 season, he allowed one earned run in 26 2/3 major league innings. And then was traded.

  • Tim Crews: The reliever, who died tragically in a boating accident during Spring Training in 1993, grabbed a start May 22. He lasted four innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on eight hits. An effective middle reliever with ERAs of 2.48, 3.14 and 3.21 in his first three seasons, Crews returned to the bullpen until September 17, when he allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings. He finished his fourth season with an ERA of 2.77 in 49 appearances.

  • Mike Maddux: The most famous member of Greg Maddux's family besides Greg Maddux stepped in for two starts on June 6 (three innings, two runs) and June 12 (1/3 of an inning, five runs). He didn't pitch in the majors again until 1991, but returned to the Dodgers in '99.

  • Terry Wells: Ah, Terry Wells. Acquired in a trade for Franklin Stubbs on April 1, he provided some hope after his callup just by lasting six innings on July 3, becoming after 11 weeks the first Hershiser replacement to get 18 outs in a game. He allowed 13 runs (eight earned) in his first 10 innings over two starts, then held the host St. Louis Cardinals to one run in 6 1/3 innings on July 16. Again, hope. Alas, deflation. He allowed seven runs in three innings in his next start and was pulled after 1 1/3 innings - at age 26, the final appearance of his career - against Atlanta on July 27.

  • Jim Neidlinger: In the spirit of Jack Fimple and Matt Luke, Neidlinger made a difference in his brief major league career, which lasted only from his first start August 1 to his last on September 29. He made 12 starts and recorded a 3.28 ERA in 74 innings. And was never heard from in the majors again.

    Neidlinger's success should have solved the Dodgers' pitching problems - except that Belcher did not make another appearance after August 16. Though not the only factor, Belcher's absence contributed to ...

  • Mike Hartley: Two days before Belcher's final start, Hartley emerged from a season-long stay in the bullpen to make a start in a doubleheader with the Mets - and pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits. That kept him in the rotation for five more starts when Belcher was gone, and Hartley was dominant in three more of them. He held the Phillies and Mets (a second time) to one run in six innings, then shut out the Braves (the year before the Atlanta dynasty began) September 6. His final start was a downer - four runs in 4 2/3 innings at San Diego - but overall it was solid work. Hartley went to Philadelphia in the Roger McDowell trade in the summer of 1991.

  • Dennis Cook: Cook, a pitcher who was also a .264 career hitter, came to the Dodgers on September 13 for catcher Darrin Fletcher. A swingman at the time, Cook made three starts down the stretch for the Dodgers and was fine in the first (6 1/3 innings, one run) but terrible in the next two (nine earned runs in seven innings combined).

    The Dodgers finished 86-76, five games behind the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, in 1990. The interminable search in the late spring and early summer for a starter to replace Hershiser arguably cost the team a division title.

    Which brings us back to the present, and today's Daily News story.

    Appreciate well that the Dodgers are building a host of possiblities to provide themselves depth in the starting rotation, given the health and quality concerns of the favorites to win spots and the youth in the minor leagues. There isn't always safety in numbers, but it costs very little to see if there might be. Arm-shredded Scott Erickson? Maybe not? Leave-me-be-until-after-the-game-starts Wilson Alvarez? Maybe not. Duaner Sanchez, who hasn't been a starting pitcher since 2001 in AA El Paso and hasn't been an effective starter since A ball? Maybe not. Elmer decends? Maybe not.

    But the Dodgers aren't assuming that they have their starting five locked in. Perhaps it should be obvious for them to be wary, but teams have missed the obvious before.

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