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Sutton eyes 300th victory; Leonard looks strong in comeback

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale are both in baseball's Hall of Fame. Yet the man who holds most of the Los Angeles Dodgers' significant pitching records (lifetime wins plus leadership in seven other categories) is Don Sutton. Furthermore, the veteran right-hander has continued to pitch effectively since leaving the Dodgers via free agency -- winning 65 games over the past five years for Houston, Milwaukee, and Oakland. Now sometime this summer in his new California Angels uniform, probably in June, he figures to become the 19th pitcher in major league history to win 300 games. Would you also believe 57 shutouts, five one-hitters, nine two-hitters, and 20 consecutive seasons with 100 or more strikeouts?

While no one would ever confuse Sutton's fastball with those of Drysdale or Koufax, Don is every bit as much a craftsman when it comes to throwing the hitter off stride and exploiting his weakness. Even when he's behind in the count, Sutton can usually get himself even with a magnificent curveball, which, like all of his four pitches, is heavy with backspin.

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Talking pitching with Sutton is like discussing diamonds with the head jewelry buyer at Tiffany's. You know you're not going to do much better.

``My whole philosophy when I go out on the mound is to be absolutely sure I'm informed, prepared, and disciplined for what I'm about to do,'' Don explains. ``In fact, that's pretty much my philosophy of life. I want to control as much of what happens to me as I can. I don't want to beat myself, and I don't want to do anything stupid.

``I've never taken well to what I call emotional motivation, where a manager is patting you on the back all the time and telling everyone how great you are,'' he continued. ``But I can handle instruction or criticism when it deals with my work, and profit from it.''

Sutton, who once started every game intending to finish it, had a high of 18 completions with the 1972 Dodgers. In the last few years, however, anything much over 105 pitches, which will usually get him through the seventh inning, puts a strain on him physically.

``Oh, I'm capable of grinding out the eighth and ninth innings if I have to,'' he says. ``But on those few occasions when I've done that, I haven't been able to bounce back at all well. Rather than miss a turn in the rotation to regroup, I now prefer that someone finish up for me.''

Of the 18 pitchers who have won 300 games to date, only one (Phil Niekro) has had fewer than four 20-victory seasons. This is another thing that makes Sutton unique, because Don has passed that figure only once. Between 1969 and 1978, however, Sutton won 171 games for Los Angeles, with a high of 21 in 1976 and a low of 14 the following season.

Although Sutton never publicized it, when he left the Dodgers to sign a $1 million-plus contract with Houston at the end of the 1980 season, he bought four-wheel-drive pickup trucks as gifts for two L.A. coaches, Monty Basgall and Red Adams.

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It was Basgall who originally signed Don and who over the years helped him through some rough times. Adams, the club's pitching coach at that time and now a part-time specialist in the farm system, still solves most of Don's mechanical problems as a pitcher.

Sutton may be 41, but to those opposing hitters who have to face him regularly, he's still under warranty! Leonard looks strong in comeback

When Dennis Leonard of the Kansas City Royals shut out the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 on April 12, the veteran right-hander was making his first major-league start in almost three years. The former 20-game winner was sidelined for most of 1983 and all of '84 with a serious knee injury, then spent last season in a rehabilitation program that eventually involved some batting practice and minor-league pitching and a couple of late-season relief stints for the Royals.

So far this spring, though, he looks like the old Dennis Leonard. In three-hitting the Blue Jays, he had one stretch in which he retired 18 consecutive batters. And after his first three starts he led the team in wins (2-1), innings pitched (22), and earned-run average (0.82). Elsewhere in the majors

Even though a small percentage of this year's rookies are already back in the minors, an amazing 67 first-year players made Opening Day rosters in 1986; 35 in the American League, 32 in the National. Biggest surprise to date: probably hard-hitting San Francisco first baseman Will Clark, a former US Olympic star whose minor-league experience consists of 65 games of Double-A ball last year with Fresno.

During his nine years in the big leagues (Kansas City, Boston, and Oakland) outfielder Jos'e Tartabull hit exactly two home runs. But Jos'e's 23-year-old son, Danny, a rookie second basemen with the Seattle Mariners, exceeded that total by two during his first week in the American League.

How tough was it to be a member of the hapless 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost 104 games? ``When the Pirates got first basemen Sid Brean from the Dodgers late last August, I immediately began pulling for him to do well,'' said infielder Jason Thompson, who has since been traded to the Montreal Expos. ``I wanted out of Pittsburgh and every time Sid got a hit or drove in a runner for the Pirates, I figured my chances of going somewhere else automatically increased.''

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