WINTER HAVEN, FLA. — If Finksburg native John Dopson feels like a Winter Haven native, he's got good reason.
The hard-throwing right-hander for the Boston Red Sox has spent most of the last 12 months here and he's ready to make a move.
Dopson, who had his best season in 1989, when he won 12 and lost eight with the Red Sox, underwent right elbow surgery Aug. 27, 1990, and spent most of last season in rehabilitation here.
He pitched in six games with the Winter Haven Red Sox of the Florida State Leaguebefore he joined the Boston team late in the season.
He appeared in only one game and pitched two innings for Boston last year.
Nowhe says he feels stronger than ever and is ready to help the team inits pennant drive.
"I've been here for a year," he said during spring training. "I went home for Christmas and I came back here on Jan. 8 and I've been working out ever since.
"All I can say is that I'm happy to be back to normal and I'm going strong. I'd like to grindout at least 10, 11, 12 or more victories for Boston this year."
Dopson said his first outing this spring "wasn't too good but it was the first time I'd thrown real hard in almost a year. But things havegotten better.
"In my second start I was so-so and in my third game against the White Sox I threw four innings, didn't walk anyone andstruck out four."
In his fourth appearance of the spring, againstthe Toronto Blue Jays, Dopson gave up only one run in three innings -- a home run by Pat Borders "on a hanging slider," he said.
Dopson pitched the final four innings of a "B" game 10 days ago.
"I felt real strong. I didn't give up any runs and I felt strong enough to go nine innings if I had been asked to," he said. "I had no pain and no problem at all. I threw all my pitches at full speed."
That's good news for the Red Sox, said pitching coach Rich Gale and manager Butch Hobson.
"I've been really impressed with John's pitching thisspring. I've been pleased with his showing. He's thrown the ball very well and he's had excellent velocity," Gale said.
"Oh, he got hit hard in his first start. It was the first time he'd pitched in a spring game in over a year. He's improved with every start. He's on a very good track to get back (on the major league roster) and I know hecertainly can help our team win some games."
Hobson said he's also been impressed with Dopson's showing this spring.
"He's really thrown the ball well and he feels good about himself," the first-year manager said. "He's a very hard worker. I'm glad to see he's on his way back. He can help us."
But Dopson won't be helping the Red Sox right away.
General Manager Lou Gorman said Dopson would be placedon the disabled list on Opening Day and then would go on a 30-day rehabilitation program with the Class AAA team in Pawtucket, R.I.
Dopson, who had pitched 11 2/3 innings in four spring training appearances, going 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA, could wind up back in Boston once his time with the PawSox ends, Gorman said.
Despite starting the year at Class AAAA, Dopson said he's excited about the 1992 season because his fast ball, slider and changeup have all been working this spring.
"It was a different situation when I came to spring training last year after undergoing surgery," said the graduate of Delone Catholic High in McSherrystown, Pa. "But this year, I've been working hardall winter long and it's paid off. I'm ready to go. I know I can help this team."
Asked if he had anything to tell his home folks about the upcoming season, Dopson said, "I'm going strong and I hope someof them will come to see me pitch when we play in Baltimore this season."
The last time Dopson pitched nine innings was Sept. 27, 1989, against the Yankees and his last start was on June 5, 1990, also against the Yankees.
That was two seasons ago and Dopson is ready tomake up for lost time.
He's looking forward to pitching in coolerweather, be it in Boston or Pawtucket, in the next few weeks.
He's confident that when the pennant stretch rolls around, he'll be in there giving it his best shot.