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Injury-plagued baseball swings for the fences

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Injury-plagued baseball swings for the fences**

The baseball team has logged two consecutive record-setting seasons, winning 38 games in 1992 and 39 in 1993. The Blue Devils couldn't have turned the program around without a healthy starting nine and a full bench.

But this season, they'll have to face the problem which plagues all solid teams from time to time: injuries.

"We've led kind of a charmed life the last couple of years," head coach Steve Traylor said. "Right now, we're banged up a little bit. But this comes with the territory of building a program -- eventually, you get to a position where you are tested."

Traylor's first essay assignment, in 50 words or less: How do you start your season without the services of sophomore left-hander Scott Schoeneweis, whose 12 wins were the most by a Blue Devil pitcher in 41 years; without 6-5 freshman fire-baller Richard Dishman, who spurned professional baseball to come to Duke; without speedy power hitter Ray Farmer, who skips spring football drills to star in the Blue Devil outfield?

"Our depth is going to be tested early in the year, especially our pitching," Traylor said. "We're going to have to have guys who have not gotten a lot of innings for us . . . step in there right now and show us whether they can pitch or not."

Schoeneweis' loss is potentially the most devastating. Perhaps the most talented pitcher ever to don the royal blue and white, the lefty's strained pitching shoulder will keep him sidelined for at least three weeks. Schoeneweis' body was weakened following an off-season battle with cancer, and the Blue Devils will anxiously await his return.

"We're pretty confident -- Scott's pretty confident -- that they've got his health problems under control," Traylor said. "It's more a matter of his conditioning right now. We think we're going to get him back and he can throw a lot of innings for us, but how many, we don't know. He may never, this season, be as strong as he was last year.

"We may have to put him in the bullpen, use him as a closer or something, get him to throw one or two innings every two or three days. We're going to do whatever is best for his health and also for our program winning ballgames."

Schoeneweis threw over 100 innings last season, compiling a 3.01 ERA. Traylor expected to get at least that much work out of his ace this year, as well as the right-handed Dishman -- Duke's top recruit is suffering from a broken pitching wrist.

"[Dishman] was drafted out of high school in the 16th round -- he's a big, strong, power pitcher," Traylor said. "Again, there's a guy you look to get 100 innings, and he's in a cast. [A broken wrist] is a tough thing to come back from. He may not pitch this year."

Farmer, who hit .280 with six home runs and 13 stolen bases last year, is out for six weeks with a broken finger.

While the injured heal, the Blue Devils will rely on a stronger offensive punch in 1994.

"If there's one noticeable difference in our team, it's the physical strength of our position players," Traylor said. "We're hitting the ball harder, guys have quicker bats, we're stronger, we have more guys who can hit the ball out of the park. Whatever nine starters we put out there, we probably have six or seven guys who can legitimately hit the ball out of the park. That's good to have that spread up and down your lineup.

"We don't have what I consider a sure out in our lineup right now."

Headlining Traylor's power-packed line-up card are Duke's two returning All-Atlantic Coast Conference performers, centerfielder Ryan Jackson and first-baseman Scott Pinoni. Flanking Jackson in the outfield are sophomore Mike King, who will patrol left field until Farmer's return, and senior Scott Bles in right.

Two freshmen should make a strong Blue Devil infield even stronger in 1994. Frankie Chiou, who has rebounded from a sub-par fall performance, has former team-leader Mike Olexa's big shoes to fill at shortstop. At catcher, 5-6, 150 lbs., Randy Goodroe takes over for Matt Harrell, who now toils in the Montreal Expos' farm system.

"[Goodroe's] a player," Traylor said. "Extremely, quick, great receiver, excellent athlete, very fast. He's going to be our leadoff hitter, probably our primary basestealing threat, and also our starter behind the plate. He's just an excellent player -- he blocks balls well, has a quick release. He's not what your prototype, Division I player looks like, but he's going to do a nice job back there."

Rounding out the infield are three-year starter Sean McNally at third, junior Jeff Piscorik at second, and Pinoni at first.

The Blue Devils should have enough talent to carry them through the lean, early season. Traylor's generous use of Duke reserves in 1993 will show its value over this period.

"Last year was a year when we got a lot of guys into a lot of games," Traylor said. "We had 11 or 12 guys with at least 100 at-bats, and that will pay dividends for us right now."

NOTES: Several Duke alumni had strong performances in professional baseball's 1993 season. Mike Trombley, who pitched for the Blue Devils from 1987-89, was part of the Minnesota Twins five-man rotation last year, going 6-6 with a 4.88 era in 114.3 innings. Quinton McCracken (1989-92) was named outstanding prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization after hitting .292 with 141 hits in 483 at-bats for Class A Central Valley (Calif.).

McCracken's classmate, pitcher Mike Kotarski, went 6-2 with 11 saves as the closer for the Central Valley Rockies. John Courtwright (1989-91) will go to spring training this March as part of the Cincinnati Reds' 40-man roster and will play AAA baseball if he fails to make the parent club. Tim Rumer (1988-90), who was injured last season, should pitch at AAA-Columbus of the New York Yankees organization.

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