It's hit and miss: If Blue Jays play Molitor, who sits? No DH leaves club with too many bats

October 19, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has kept everyone guessing for days, but he wasn't in any hurry to end the suspense yesterday.

The 90th World Series has moved to the National League city, and the next three games will be played under National League rules -- meaning no designated hitter -- leaving Gaston to decide what to do with one of the most productive hitters in the game.

Can he afford to sit MVP contender Paul Molitor for even one of the three games? Will he bench American League batting champion John Olerud to make room at first base? Will he risk sacrificing defense to put Molitor at third?

There were no concrete answers yesterday, although the Los Angeles Times reported early today that Molitor will replace Olerud at first against Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Danny Jackson tonight with Olerud returning for Game 4 against right-hander Tommy Greene.

But yesterday, as the Blue Jays prepared for tonight's Game 3 at Veterans Stadium, all Gaston would confirm was that struggling Rickey Henderson would remain at the top of the batting order.

Gaston said he hasn't considered moving Henderson, even though longtime Blue Jays leadoff batter Devon White is one of the hottest hitters in the postseason and a sore hamstring has hobbled Henderson.

"There is more to it than just writing out the lineup card," Gaston said. "You have to deal with people and the way they feel. I think Rickey is more comfortable in the leadoff spot and Devon has no problem batting second, so we'll leave it that way. I like to see people play positions that they are comfortable with."

That philosophy could shed light on the DH decision, because Molitor started 23 games at first base this year. He figures to be more comfortable there, but the Blue Jays would be better off offensively with Molitor and Olerud in the lineup.

The other option is third base, where Ed Sprague is far easier to remove from the batting order, but Molitor did not play an inning there this year. He has been working out there during the past couple of weeks and pronounced himself fit to play third after yesterday's workout.

"I know it's a concern of Cito's to make sure players are comfortable defensively," Molitor said, "but he also has said to me that he doesn't want me to go five days without being in the lineup."

Gaston's biggest concern is the possibility Molitor might hurt his shoulder making the throw from third to first base, a notion Molitor tried to dispel after testing his arm.

"I told him I can get the ball over there," Molitor said. "The balls today, I thought I was throwing well. I'd love the chance to do it. There are no guarantees defensively if you play every day or once every four years."

Both Sprague and Olerud have indicated that they will accept whatever Gaston writes on the lineup card.

"That's just the way it goes," Olerud told the Times after being told he would not start Game 3. "As long as we win the series, that's all that matters. If it's best for the ballclub, I'm all for it."

Sprague is not in a position to argue. He batted .247 against left-handed pitchers this season, and Olerud hit .291.

If Gaston is willing to move Molitor to an unfamiliar position -- perhaps for Game 4 -- it would appear to make more sense to put him in left field than at third base.

Henderson is struggling at the plate and has been hamstrung in the outfield by his sore hamstring. Taking him out of the lineup would leave the Blue Jays with the same batting order that carried them through most of the season, but it has not been seriously considered, Gaston said.

"I don't think Rickey has produced like Rickey feels he can produce," Gaston said. "I know it's been tough because his lack of production has come at a critical time. Rickey has been playing hurt, there's no doubt in my mind . . . but I'll tell you this. Rickey is capable of busting out of it and winning the next three games for us."

Henderson was very talkative during the first few days of the World Series, but he has grown tired of the questions about his hitting slump and physical problems.

"There are so many negatives it isn't worth talking about it," he said. "I'm the same as I have been. I think you all have everything, so there's no need to explain myself again. I'm too good a ballplayer to keep explaining myself."

No doubt, benching him would cause the same kind of controversy that made life unpleasant for Chicago White Sox manager Gene Lamont after he kept George Bell on the bench.

But the Blue Jays already are working under the assumption that Henderson will not be back for the 1994 season.

Gaston conceded as much yesterday when he said that White probably would be back at the top of the Blue Jays batting order soon enough, but general manager Pat Gillick wasn't ready to reveal any off-season plans.

"We haven't made any determination," Gillick said. "We have a few guys -- Henderson, [Jack] Morris, Danny Cox -- who can either be free agents or have options. Right now, we're focusing on the World Series, and we may make those decisions at the end of the week.

"He [Henderson] is playing all right. I don't think he's put up the numbers that we'd like, but the combination of the wrist and hamstring problems may have contributed to that. He hit the ball pretty well last [Sunday] night."

As for who plays and who doesn't the rest of the World Series, Gaston knows he will be second-guessed.

"I'm probably going to end up a [villain] no matter what I decide," he said.

WORLD SERIES TONIGHT

GAME 3

(Best of seven; Series tied, 1-1)

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Time: 8:12

Phillies starter: Danny Jackson (13-11, 3.67)

Blue Jays starter: Pat Hentgen (19-10, 4.06)

TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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