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Lockout hurts the young and restless

Mickey Pina had been looking forward to this for a long time. Growing up in Bridgewater, Mass., sweating through three seasons at Eckerd College, toiling in minor-league outfields in Elmira, Lynchburg, New Britain and Pawtucket, Pina has had one goal: to play for the Boston Red Sox. He taped a picture of Fenway Park inside his locker. Pina is 23, big and strong, and coming off a solid performance at the Triple-A level. The Red Sox, a little old, a bit weak and intent on improving upon a third-place finish, are eager to know if Pina can help.

"I'm dying to take a look at him," Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said. "I'd love to watch him for six weeks. It doesn't look like that's going to happen."

Each day the players remain locked out of camp, Pina's chances of making the Red Sox roster are diminished. Instead of hitting, running and working out for the Boston coaches in Winter Haven, he is sitting in Bridgewater, trying to stay fit and grabbing the paper each morning to keep up with the labor negotiations.

Pina, and other young players in similar situations, are the biggest victims of the spring training lockout, which is now in its sixth day. Without a full six weeks to display their talents, these players will find it much tougher to win a spot on the big-league roster, especially ahead of a veteran player.

There are other casualties. Consider New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden, who needs the spring to answer any questions about his recovery from an arm injury.

Or Seattle's Tino Martinez, the kid from Tampa who was invited to major-league camp with a chance to impress.

Or Cincinnati's new management team of Lou Piniella and Bob Quinn, who must learn not only about their personnel but also a different league.

There are others _ players trying to rebound from career-worst seasons, players with new teams, players making position changes. There were a record 305 moves with the disabled list last year, so physical uncertainties abound. Trades probably will be put off until the camps open.

"A short spring would affect clubs looking to fill positions like ourselves," Morgan said. "It would hurt teams like us more than Oakland, which knows exactly what they got and they're going to play their guys. Sure, it would affect a guy like Pina."

"There will be an awful lot of hardships on the managers," said Pittsburgh catcher Mike LaValliere. "There's a lot of time in the early games where the regulars only go five innings and they get a chance to see other guys. Those guys won't get the shot this year they ought to get."

Pina is maintaining an emotional balance. "It's frustrating. It's something you wait all winter for, and now it's time to go down to camp and show what you can do and that opportunity may be shortened," he said.

"There's really nothing I can do about it. The main thing is just to look at it in the long term, to maintain the same goals and work habits."

Last year, his third in pro baseball, Pina batted .260 at Double-A New Britain with two homers and 26 RBI. But when the Sox bumped him up to Triple-A Pawtucket, he responded with a .285 average, 14 home runs and 45 RBI in 71 games.

"I see him as a guy in Double-A who was doing fair who went to Triple-A and did better. That says a lot about somebody in this game," Morgan said. "Six weeks (of camp) would help Mickey Pina get more acclimated to big-league baseball."

Gooden's situation is different. Healthy, he is one of the game's most overpowering pitchers. But idled by a shoulder injury the second half of the 1989 season, he is looking forward to climbing back up the hill. He's been throwing with his nephew, Milwaukee shortstop Gary Sheffield, and said he has thrown at about 70 percent velocity off a mound.

"The big test will come in a game situation, facing live hitters with the adrenaline going," Gooden said Monday. "Then I'll know I'm back, I'm 100 percent, I'm ready to go. Until then, I really don't know."

The uncertainty over when spring training will start has made it difficult for Gooden to tailor his conditioning and rehabilitation. "I don't know when to increase my throwing and when to back off. That's what makes it awkward, especially coming back from an injury," he said.

Two St. Louis Cardinals pitchers _ Danny Cox and John Tudor _ showed up in St. Petersburg early to show that they're recovered from arm surgeries. But the prospect of a three- or four-week training period is not encouraging.

"I'm not 21 years old anymore. I can't just go out there after one week and pitch," said Tudor.

"The reason I'm down here is that I haven't pitched in a year and a half," Cox said. "I have to prove myself to the manager. That's exactly right. The big reason I need the spring is not only for me to find out, but also the manager. It might be hard to do in a short period of time."

Martinez isn't too concerned about the lockout. He's headed for Triple-A Calgary and will report to minor-league camp as scheduled next month.

"I would have had a chance to go in, maybe play in a few games and maybe do well," Martinez said. "I have a lot more confidence than last year. If I could have done well and they needed me early in the season, I could have been up there. Now I'll just go and try to make an impression in the minor-league camp."

Quinn said he and Piniella have done plenty of research and are well-versed in the Reds and the rest of the National League. The lockout puts the Reds at no greater disadvantage than any other team, he said.

"We have a pretty good idea today of who would come north unless there is a surprise or an injury," Quinn said Monday from Cincinnati. "Everyone will get the kind of look they deserve. If we're going to find a diamond in the rough, we'll find one."

It's happened before. But if there had been a lockout last year, who knows if Cubs manager Don Zimmer would have kept centerfielder Jerome Walton, who made the jump from Double-A and turned out to be the rookie of the year.

And if it happened in 1984?

"If this had been going on, I probably wouldn't have made it," said Gooden, who was 17-9, struck out 276 batters and won the rookie of the year award. "I needed the whole spring to show what I can do. For guys this year, it's going to be pretty tough. It's a disadvantage for some rookies who have a 50-50 chance of making the team. If the lockout continues, they won't have a chance to show their stuff."