Portugal Gets Nod To Start

Posted: May 12, 1998

LOS ANGELES — Before Mark Portugal was allowed to come out and play Thursday night, he had to get a good grade on his test.

The final exam took place in the Dodger Stadium bullpen late yesterday afternoon. Portugal, coming off April 7 arthroscopic knee surgery, passed easily and was cleared to make his second start of the season in the series finale against the Dodgers.

It's not on TV, so it won't challenge ``Seinfeld'' that night, but the Phillies are pretty darn happy about it anyway.

``We've been sort of waiting for a couple years for him to be healthy enough to slide into that second or third spot in the rotation,'' general manager Ed Wade said.

The Phillies have experienced a steep dropoff in production from their starters after Curt Schilling and Tyler Green this season.

``This might take some of the pressure of the younger guys,'' Wade said. ``Maybe it will ratchet them into a spot where they're more comfortable and productive.''

Portugal practically bubbled with anticipation.

``I feel so good I have to fight myself not to get too happy,'' he said. ``After all I've been through, I can't look too far down the road. It's such a cliche, but I really do have to take it one start at a time.''

LEWIE, LEWIE Second baseman Mark Lewis, mired in a 5-for-48 slump that has lowered his overall average for the season to .189 heading into last night's game, took early batting practice yesterday but didn't start game against the Dodgers.

``We're going to give him a day to watch and then he'll be right back in there,'' said manager Terry Francona, who pushed to sign Lewis as a free agent last winter.

Francona said that he's confident Lewis will begin hitting, but that, in the meantime, he still does things that help the team.

``When he isn't hitting, I don't have to baby-sit him,'' the manager said. ``He has a good idea of what it takes to be a good teammate.''

Said Lewis: ``If you're not hitting, you have to play good defense. You have to play the game right, give it the best you've got that day.

``I've always started quickly and not ended up the way I've wanted. So hopefully this year I'll turn it around and end quickly.''

PAYBACK TIME Francona reiterated Mike Grace's spot in the rotation is secure, even though he was in the process of giving away a 5-0 lead when he was lifted from Sunday's game against Arizona in the fourth inning and even though he's 1-4, 6.75 ERA this year.

``We need Gracie,'' the manager said. ``We're pretty committed to him, to helping him get better, not making a change.''

Francona said Grace showed loyalty and commitment to the organization by working hard to come back from numerous injuries.

``It's easy to ask guys to give all they have,'' he said. Now it's our turn to have patience. And we will.''

CAMERA CALL Curt Schilling will go Hollywood tomorrow. He will film a speaking part of the HBO sitcom ``Arli$$,'' playing himself.

The show, starring Robert Wuhl as a sports agent, routinely uses real professional athletes. Among the Phillies who have appeared in previous episodes are catcher Mike Lieberthal and former manager Jim Fregosi.

PHILLERS Dodger Stadium has always been one of baseball's most traditional parks, but that is changing. A rotating advertising sign was installed behind the plate . . . The outfield wall is still free of ads. This year it features of mural of Dodgers Hall of Famers from Jackie Robinson in the leftfield corner to Tommy Lasorda in right. There is room between Lasorda and the foul pole for Don Sutton, who will be added when the Braves visit later this season. Sutton, now an Atlanta broadcaster, will be inducted into Cooperstown as a Dodger this summer.

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