Is time ripe for Mets' Strawberry?

Darryl Strawberry's first 11 at-bats in the Big Apple, after being recalled by the New York Mets from their Tidewater farm club, still left a core of questions about the rookie outfielder, who last year hit 37 home runs in only his third minor league season. The Mets, with attendance problems caused partly by losing 14 of their first 20 games, are already being accused of rushing Strawberry instead of letting his talent ripen naturally. At the time of his promotion, for example, Darryl had struck out 18 times in 57 at-bats with Tidewater and misplayed four balls in the field.

In his first major league game last Friday night, Strawberry struck out three times and fouled out once before walking twice and eventually stealing second and scoring the winning run in a 13-inning victory over Cincinnati. He was 0 -for-4 officially in his next game, too, then went out his first three times up on Sunday to make it 0-for-11. When he did get a pitch he could handle, though, the 6 ft. 6 in., 190-lb. rookie singled sharply to left field to drive in a run, and on Monday night he got his first big league extra base hit - a double - against Houston.

Strawberry, who bats and throws left-handed, seems to have a wiser head than some of his bosses. At his first New York press conference, he told reporters he wasn't a one-man team. ''I can't carry this ball club. I'm just one of several young prospects on the Mets.'' Despite a low-key personality, Darryl attracted a lot of media attention even in high school, including a feature in a national magazine. He also made the social pages recently when he announced his engagement to All-America basketball star Paula McGee of the University of Southern California's NCAA women's champions. On their first date they played basketball in a park, then went out for soft drinks and pizza.

Cleon Jones, the Mets' roving batting instructor, says that Strawberry is one of the best young prospects he's ever seen. But as is the case with most rookies , Darryl's future depends on how soon he can learn to hit breaking balls consistently at the major league level. Meanwhile Strawberry's presence seems to have awakened the power bat of George Foster, who went 10-for-25 during a recent six-game hot streak; drove in nine runs; and scored six himself, while raising his average close to the .300 mark. Foster, who slumped badly last year at the plate, now attributes his falloff to the fact that he messed up his rhythm by too often trying to hit home runs. Perplexing prediction; Sutton trade

* Several times this spring Manager Joe Torre has wondered out loud how anyone (includng a national magazine) could pick his Atlanta Braves for fifth place in the NL West. ''It didn't bother me when we didn't get a high rating last year, because at that time we hadn't proved anything,'' Torre explained. ''But this year we're the defending champions in our division.'' Incidentally, Braves' management this season has set aside a section of its ballpark (a total of 348 seats), where baseball fans who don't want to risk having beer spilled on them can relax in safety and comfort.

* Asked why the Houston Astros had been willing to trade a pitcher the caliber of Don Sutton to Milwaukee late last season, Manager Bob Lillis replied: ''Sutton, for some reason, was unhappy in Houston. When he told us that he was going to retire before the start of 1983 if we didn't trade him, we believed him , because Don has always been a man of his word. But the players we got for Sutton, pitchers Mike Madden and Frank DiPino, plus outfielder Kevin Bass, have all made our ballclub. In fact, they should be a big part of the Astros' future.'' Tidbits from around the majors

Infielder Pat Tabler, who has been hitting well with the Cleveland Indians, has already performed with three teams this season in three months. Before Cleveland, Tabler had a shot with both the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox . . . Baseball's next commissioner, according to widespread reports, is going to be either present incumbent Bowie Kuhn or William E. Simon, president of the United States Olympic Committee.

. . . From San Diego's Steve Garvey on former Dodger teammate Ron Cey, when he was hitting about 65 points below his lifetime major league average: ''We've all gone through batting slumps and they are tough to overcome. But I can assure Chicago Cubs fans that, day in and day out, Cey is one of the steadiest, most productive players in the game. Anyone who writes Ron off for what he's done so far this year is doing so prematurely.''

. . .The San Francisco Giants' front office, tired of the negative attitude of outfielder Jack Clark, reportedly would like to make him the chief lure in a multi-player deal. One of the problems of moving Clark is that his salary jumps over the million dollar mark next season . . . Most scouts will tell you there isn't a more polished right-hander in the American League this year than Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays, who already has won five games. But the improved Blue Jays, who came within three victories of playing .500 baseball last season, don't have enough RBI hitters to be ranked with Baltimore, Milwaukee, Boston, etc. . . . The Los Angeles Dodgers, because of injuries to shortstop Bill Russell and backup Derrel Thomas, have recalled infielder Dave Anderson from the minors and traded with Cincinnati for Rafael Landestoy.

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