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DODGERS NOTEBOOK: HAS ANYBODY SEEN OREL?

Byline: Brian Dohn Staff Writer

MIAMI - When last seen, Orel Hershiser was walking off the mound at Arizona's Bank One Ballpark having allowed five runs in one-third of an inning and wondering what he needed to do to pitch successfully out of the bullpen.

That was 12 days ago. His last pitch was Damian Miller's 12th-inning grand slam.

It was rosy and nostalgic when Hershiser inked a free-agent deal during the offseason, and the organization adores him, but finding a role has become problematic and the time the Dodgers are trying to buy is running out.

For the better part of the road trip, the Dodgers have been carrying 25 players but using 24. It hasn't been a huge issue because they're winning, but as the situation lingers, the more glaring it could be.

While the Dodgers figure out what to do - though the answer partly lies with how Carlos Perez pitches - Hershiser threw a simulated game Saturday at Pro Player Stadium before the Dodgers-Florida Marlins game. It's the closest Hershiser has come to an actual game since May 9.

``It's not that I'm reluctant (to use Hershiser in relief), it's that at this time I don't feel it's his strong suit,'' manager Davey Johnson said. ``On the occasions I've used him, I was a little short or had to go with him or wanted his experience there.''

Trading Hershiser, at this point, isn't an option, especially with a lack of starting depth. Figuring out how to get him more work is the answer, but by now it was supposed to work itself out.

``I would prefer to be quiet about the whole situation and let it work out, whichever way it does,'' Hershiser said. ``The last thing I want to do is create controversy and be a problem.''

Perez's contract (he's owed $12.5 million through next season) and circumstance, along with a few solid outings, has kept him in the rotation and left Hershiser in this unaccustomed role.

Earlier this month, the Dodgers bought time when they agreed with Perez to let him refuse a minor-league assignment until May 31. The idea was if he pitched poorly, he would be sent to the minors. Perez is 2-1 with an 7.06 ERA in four starts since the agreement was made public May 1.

But the room in which the Dodgers gave Perez to fail is almost gone, yet Perez is still around. He's 4-2, but he's getting 8.62 runs of support per nine innings and opponents are batting .316 against him. Also, because of an off day Thursday, the Dodgers won't need a fifth starter again until May 30.

Meanwhile, Hershiser, after starting and winning the home opener, is 0-1 with a 15.18 ERA in four relief appearances. His fifth outing will only take place under unusual circumstances.

``I want to figure out what's the best thing for Orel,'' Johnson said. ``This exercise is to get him to where his mechanics and mindset is right so he can pitch out of the bullpen or the rotation, any way I use him.''

--Elster in, Cora out: After the game, the team activated shortstop Kevin Elster and sent Alex Cora, despite hitting .297 with three RBI and playing well defensively, to Triple-A Albuquerque.

``I understand the situation,'' Cora said. ``I knew from the beginning. I thought about it (Friday). I knew it was the end right here. I understand. They have their hands tied right now. I know who the shortstop is. I know some day (Elster) had to come off the disabled list.''

--Odds and ends: Right-hander Mike Fetters (inflamed right elbow) is scheduled to throw another bullpen session today. . . . Marlins bullpen coach Tony Taylor was ejected during Florida's sixth-inning pitching change for arguing.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 21, 2000
Words:627
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