Just like last year, the Philadelphia Phillies will use spring training to determine if one of the links to their 1993 NL championship team, center fielder Lenny Dykstra, is healthy enough to play.
To hear Dykstra tell it, there's no doubt.
"I had some injuries that set me back," Dykstra said Friday, the day before Phillies pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report. "But I got them fixed, and now I'm ready to go."
Dykstra's knees and back forced him to miss all of last season and kept him out of all but 189 games in the three seasons before that. He's had surgery to fix those problems, and said he's fully healthy.
"I'm fine," said Dykstra, who turned 35 Tuesday. "There's no problem at all."
Dykstra's situation is similar to that of Darren Daulton, the catcher on the 1993 title team.
The Phillies went into spring training last year not knowing whether Daulton's knees, surgically repaired nine times, could withstand the strain of playing.
He surprised them by hitting with authority and, before the season was very old, ended up being their starting right fielder. After a trade to the Florida Marlins helped Daulton earn his first World Series ring, he retired last month.
"It's like Dutch last year," manager Terry Francona said. "We've got to answer some questions. You'd like to say, with a guy like (Dykstra), `Play yourself into shape.' We can't do that."
The Phillies didn't appear too confident Dykstra, a career .285 hitter who led off for the 1993 Phillies, could return when they traded reliable second baseman Mickey Morandini to the Chicago Cubs for promising center fielder Doug Glanville.
If Dykstra shows he's ready to play, Francona said the Phillies will find regular playing time for Glanville, who hit .300 in 146 games last year.
Bobby Abreu, another young outfielder obtained in an offseason trade, figures to start in left. Gregg Jefferies, a disappointment in his first three seasons in Philadelphia, could be the odd man out if he doesn't impress quickly.
The trade for Abreu cost shortstop Kevin Stocker, meaning the Phillies won't have the efficient double play tandem of Stocker and Morandini. Replacing them will be shortstop Desi Relaford and second baseman Mark Lewis.
Despite 34 errors, Relaford was voted the International League's top shortstop last year at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre.
"I think Desi's going to be a pretty good player," Francona said. "He doesn't have to hit .300. He just has to play shortstop."
Francona lobbied the Phillies front office to sign Lewis, a free agent who played in Detroit when Francona was the third-base coach there in 1996.
"I thought he was very pivotal," Francona said. "He cares more about wins than getting hits. I wanted him here."
The infield corners are set with NL Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen at third and Rico Brogna, a pleasant surprise last year, at irst.
Mike Lieberthal, who emerged last year with a 20-homer season, will catch.
Curt Schilling, the NL's strikeout leader last year with 319, is the ace. Beyond Schilling and closer Ricky Bottalico, who had 34 saves, the Phillies' pitching situation is shaky.
Mark Portugal made just three starts last season before elbow problems forced him out. Both Mike Grace and Tyler Green have a history of arm problems, but finished 1997 strong.
Left hander Matt Beech and Garrett Stephenson, who came out of nowhere to finish 8-6 with a 3.15 ERA, round out the list of potential starters.
Whoever doesn't start from that group will join Bottalico, Jerry Spradlin, Wayne Gomes and left-handers Yorkis Perez and Billy Brewer in the bullpen.
Even though the Phillies finished tied with the Cubs for the NL's worst record last year at 68-94, they had the league's third-best finish, going 44-33 after the All-Star break.
It gave Phillies fans reason for optimism. Francona believes there is reason for hope, but he's also realistic.
"We have more ifs than a lot of teams, but I think we're heading in the right direction," he said. "I feel good that in all the moves we've made, we've gotten younger and more athletic, with a chance of getting better."
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