Dodgers pushing a rookie to get to first base

This is to report that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been bending the Law (Rudy, that is), trying to make a line-drive hitter out of a guy who has often lost points off his batting average by uppercutting the ball.

Law is a 23-year-old rookie outfielder with speed, good hands, and practically unlimited potential. He is slightly more than six feet tall, maybe as fast as anyone in baseball going from home plate to first base, and interview-shy to the point of dealing mostly in yes-and-no answers.

With Rick Monday coming back from surgery, Derrel Thomas often throwing to the wrong base, and Gary Thomasson lacking consistency, Law has a chance to put his own brand on the Dodger center-field position.

What Manager Tom Lasorda wants in return is a change in Rudy's batting style -- one that will allow him to take advantage of his speed and his ability to make good contact. The Dodgers have already closed up his stance and are also teaching him to hit down on the ball.

"If Law will go with the pitch and hit between the infielders [the way Matty Alou used to do], he can make this ball club," a Dodger spokesman told me."I hope he's smart enough to realize this, because if he doesn't learn to protect the plate better, the pitchers in this league are going to have him for breakfast.

"At 165 pounds we're not asking Rudy to hit home runs or drive in a lot of runs," he continued. "All we want him to do is get on base. With his speed, and with the power hitters we already have, we'll find a way to get him home. But he's got to do it our way, and he's got to do it fairly quickly."

The Dodgers are hoping that Law, with the same kind of quick wrists that make Rod Carew so effective, can eventually develop to the point where he can hit a ball between the pickets in a fence. They want him to spray pitches around just enough so that opposing teams can only defense him straightaway.

Three years ago while playing the outfield for the Dodger's Lodi farm club in the California League, Rudy hit .386 and scored 124 runs. "Trying to throw a ball past Law that season," said one of his teammates, "was like trying to slip the sunrise past a rooster."

Law might have had a shot with the Dogers last year if he hadn't been injured during spring training and hurt again at Albuquerque. But he still managed to hit .296 in 72 games and followed that up with a .369 average in the Arizona Instructional League.

Naturally the major leagues are different. Instead of seeing maybe two good pitchers a week in the minors, you get one every day in the majors, plus all those specialists who work out of the bullpen.

That kind of competition can drain a young hitter if he persists in matching power against power, which is why the Dodgers are so set on teaching Law to go with the pitching and not try to pull everything.

"I saw enough big-league pitching in spring training this year so that I know I can hit up here," Rudy explained. "I can pull the ball, the way I used to, or I can go with the pitch, if that's what they want. But I'm going to make contact, and contact usually means a pretty good average." (His average after 30 trips to the plate this season was a respectable .267.)

Asked about his adjustment from left field to center, Law replied: "I feel comfortable out there and that I can do the job. I don't have a great arm, but I do get rid of the ball quickly and I'm accurate. I can make the throws I have to make and I'm willing to do anything the Dodgers ask me to do."

Although Los Angeles has an excellent leadoff hitter in Davey Lopes (77 stolen bases in 1975), there is no reason why Law shouldn't be able to hit second. Rudy also has some impressive stolen-base figures himself, including 79 at Albuquerque in 1978.

"Even if you're a team with a lot of power, like we are, you still want people in your lineup who can run," Lasorda said. "You want them because guys with speed always make opposing infielders jittery, and that can result in hurried throws and errors. I can see it now -- Lopes and Law on base at the same time with Steve Garvey and Reggie Smith coming up!"

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