Yanks feel way with Strawberry Role unclear, but Torre, teammates are optimistic

Sidelight

July 12, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

He has the ability to win a game with one swing of the bat or be a divisive force in the clubhouse.

Darryl Strawberry, once one of the most feared hitters in baseball as a New York Met, is back in New York as a Yankee. Strawberry began his second stint in pinstripes Sunday, going 0-for-4 against Milwaukee on Sunday.

But his real audition began last night, the first night of a big four-game series between the Orioles and Yankees. He was hitless in three at-bats with a walk.

Strawberry's role with the Yankees is still undefined. The 34-year-old might be used exclusively as a designated hitter, like last night, or he could see time in the outfield.

Either way, That means less playing time for DH Ruben Sierra or outfielder Gerald Williams.

"I don't know yet," Yankees manager Joe Torre said about Strawberry. "I'm not sure if he's going to hit lefties. I don't know what I'll do with him against [left-hander] David Wells [tonight]. I hope he hits home runs and puts a little fear in the opposition. That's the one area where we've been lacking [12th in homers]. Strawberry is one guy who can break a game open with one swing."

The Yankees, 12th in the league in homers, began to get a feel for Strawberry's talents yesterday.

Strawberry spent the afternoon working in the outfield with coach Jose Cardenal, and Torre said he was impressed. Strawberry also took extra batting practice, sending several balls sailing toward the warehouse.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson was Strawberry's skipper with the Mets. Johnson said he remembers Strawberry's strength, but not his fielding prowess.

"I hope he plays [poorly]," Johnson said with a laugh. "It'll be interesting to see what role Strawberry plays. I'd like to see him in right field running around under balls out there."

Last year Strawberry signed with the Yankees late in the year, then was dropped after the season, after 84 at-bats and 32 games. This season he hit .435 with 18 homers and 39 RBIs in 28 games with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, where the pitching more closely mirrors Double-A.

"I was rusty last season and my legs hurt," said Strawberry, who hit .276 with three homers in 32 games for the Yankees. "I feel better now. . . . I'm at a place in my mind where I'm locked back in. I haven't been there for a while. I'm there now and it feels good."

"He looks good," said Yankees pitcher and former Mets teammate Dwight Gooden. "He looks real aggressive to me. I know there's a lot of talk about him not playing against lefties, but he always hit lefties well [with the Mets]. I think he probably needs to play every day. He's that type of hitter."

Strawberry's and Gooden's lives have changed drastically since their heyday with the Mets. Both struggled with substance abuse problems. Strawberry also was charged with income tax evasion.

Things are different now, Gooden said.

"I think he's done some soul searching," Gooden said. "Everything he's been through has made him stronger. . . . He had to go over some tough hurdles to get back to this point. Just having his presence around keeps everybody loose."

And if Strawberry can put it all together, the Yankees will have a much-needed power hitter.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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