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S a r a h ' s  D o d g e r  P l a c e

Dreifort sees his hard work paying off

2-22-01

In the 1960s the Los Angeles Dodgers had a big tough right-handed starter with the initials of D.D. who gained super stardom, Don Drysdale. Now the Dodgers have a big tough right-handed starter whose initials are D.D. Many think Darren Dreifort has the potential to reach super stardom. Dreifort is an unassuming Mid Westerner who tries to do his best every game and does not want to make waves.

Though Dreifort has won only 39 games in the major leagues, the Dodgers awarded him with a five-year $55 million contract. Many, including one of his teammates, criticize the Dodgers for giving him such a large contract. Many think his contract will put added pressure on him to perform, and they are concerned about Dreifort buckling under the pressure. If any baseball player can handle the pressure of a rich contract, Dreifort can.

Since Dreifort signed a major league contract, he has had pressure to perform. The Dodgers selected Dreifort as the second pick of the nation from Wichita State in 1993. Although everybody knows Alex Rodriguez who was the first pick in the nation in 1993, Dreifort has not gotten the national recognition Rodriguez has. When the Dodgers drafted and signed him, they labeled him as “the closer of the future.”

At Wichita State Dreifort was a premiere closer and one of the best designated hitters in the NCAA. His first spring at Dodgertown he impressed Tommy Lasorda and made the opening day Dodger roster. After Todd Worrell, the Dodgers’ closer, had difficulty closing games, Lasorda chose to use Dreifort, who had a few impressive major league outings, as the closer. Some games Dreifort was brilliant, but in others he did not do well. With every game he pitched, he seemed to struggle more. On June 26, 1994, the Dodgers sent Dreifort to the minor leagues to improve his skills and to regain his confidence.

The 1995 season was lost for Dreifort. He had experienced pain in his right elbow during 1994, but he kept on pitching. In the spring of 1995 Dreifort had reconstructive surgery on his elbow.

Dreifort could not pitch at the start of the 1996, but by the middle of May he returned to the major leagues. He appeared in nineteen games as a reliever and had one win, four losses, and a 4.94 ERA. Though he had a 9.00 ERA on the road, at Dodger Stadium he had a 1.42 ERA.

In 1997 Dreifort continued being a reliever, but he was putting undo stress on his arm. He appeared in 48 games and had five wins, two losses, four saves, and a 2.86 ERA.

Before the 1998 season the Dodger medical staff advised Fred Claire, the Dodger general manager at the time, and Bill Russell, the Dodger manager, to make Dreifort a starting pitcher. Warming up several times a week even not getting into a game is harder on a pitcher’s arm than pitching five to seven innings twice a week. Because the Dodgers needed another starter anyway, they decided to make Dreifort into a starter.

There is a transition from relieving to starting. Relievers need only two pitches, but starters need an array of pitches to get hitters out repeatedly. Relievers can spend all of their energy on a few hitters whereas starters must pace themselves to pitch to many hitters in a game. Unlike starters, relievers do not have days to think about their last outing and plan for their next outing. Dreifort found the transition difficult.

In 1998 Dreifort struggled with his transition from relieving to starting. He was brilliant when he saw the opposing lineup for the first time, but then he struggled the second and third times. For the first time he pitched more than a hundred innings. In September he experienced shoulder stiffness making him unable to pitch. His 1998 record was eight wins and twelve losses with a 4.00 ERA in 180 innings.

Dreifort still struggled as a starter in 1999, but everybody saw his growth. Though he had a 4.79 ERA for the 1999 season, he had a 3.59 ERA in August and a 1.42 ERA in September. Todd Hundley’s inability to throw out runners affected him. Dreifort could not keep his focus on the hitter while he knew the runner was dancing off first base and was stealing second when Dreifort delivered. Mid-through September he again suffered shoulder stiffness making him unable to pitch. In 1999 he won thirteen and lost thirteen in thirty games pitching 178.2 innings.

After the 1999 season Davey Johnson wanted to return Dreifort to the Dodger bullpen. Dreifort disliked the idea of returning to the bullpen, and Kevin Malone believed Dreifort would become a dominating starter. Johnson had no other starter to use.

In 2000 Dreifort had a few rough outings but several outings were good ones. Dreifort improved as the season proceeded. Before the all-star break his ERA was 5.14, but after the all-star break, his ERA was 3.14. He pitched a career high 192.2 innings. He had twelve wins, nine losses, and an ERA of 4.16.

This December the Dodgers rewarded Dreifort with a five-year $55 million contract for his hard work. According to the Dodger medical staff, Dreifort is the hardest working pitcher on the team because he always is doing something such as riding a stationary bike or using the treadmill. As a ground-ball pitcher Dreifort needs good defense behind him to succeed, and the Dodgers have not had good defense since he has been a Dodger.

Most National League hitters have said Dreifort’s pitches are just nasty, the highest compliment any hitter can pay to a pitcher. Many pitchers take several years in the major leagues to become dominating pitchers. At 28 Dreifort has time to turn into a dominating starter. The Dodgers believe Dreifort will become a dominating pitcher.

© Sarah D. Morris

 

 

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