Flavor of the Month -- Lima

Many years ago Jello (remember J-E-L-L-O?) had a radio jingle that touted their flavors -- strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon and Lima .. er, lime. After not allowing a run in his first six inning, Jose Lima has worked more innings than anyone on the staff, recorded a 2.25 earned run average and is giving Dodger manager Jim Tracy a pleasant problem, much like Wilson Alvarez did last spring.

Lima is only 31 despite having a 10 year major league career that included stops at Detroit, Houston and Kansas City. We won 16 in 1998 and 21 in 1999 for Houston with earned run averages of 3.70 and 3.58.

But after pitching 234, 246 and 196 innings from 1998-2000, his ERA rocketed to 7.77 in 2002 with Detroit. After a brief time in an independent league, Kansas City gave him a chance in 2003 and he responded with an 8-3, 4.91 record.

A free agent when the season ended, he signed with the Dodgers for a good deal less that his $7+ million contract with Detroit in 2002.

Originally signed by Detroit as a amateur free agent July 5, 1989, he was involved in a eight-man trade with Houston in December of 1996. In 2001 he was traded back to Detroit for Dave Mlicki.

His major league record is 71-77 with a 5.13 earned run average over 276 starts, recording an 8-16 mark with Detroit 1994-1996; a 46-42 record for Houston 1997-2001; a 9-16 mark with Detroit again in 2001-2002 and afterbeing released after a falling out with the Tiger brass, an 8-3 record with Kansas City in 2003.

He is not a strikeout pitcher, fanning 795 in 1211 major league innings or 6.6 per nine innings. But he also does not walk many, issuing only 288 bases on balls, a bit over two per nine innings. He has allowed 9.8 hits per nine.

He has sparkled during the early part of spring training and has rapidly become a fan favorite, as well as a favorite in the clubhouse, being compaired to Mickey Hatcher or Lou Johnson.

Whether he can wedge his way onto the Dodger staff is another question. With Hideo Nomo, Jeff Weaver, Kaz Ishii, Odalis Perez and wonderkinder Edwin Jackson penciled in by manager Jim Tracy, it still leaves Wilson Alvarez and Darren Dreifort looking at a spot in the bullpen.

That's tough competition. With eight non-roster pitchers with Major League experience gunning for the same role, Lima's odds improve only if the Dodgers trade a starting pitcher for a hitter. Otherwise, he could be a victim of numbers.

If self-confidence is an important factor, Lima is well supplied. "In my head, I don't think I'm a minor leaguer," he said. "I know I belong here and I'll prove that. I think back to the good days and wonder, where's the magic? I realize I'm human. Maybe I had to come down to teach me a lesson."

Out of baseball a year ago, Lima was convinced his baseball career had ended prematurely.

While taking his little boy to school, he asked why he wasn't playing baseball? Lima told him that nobody wanted him anymore so he quit and the little boy toldhim not to quit.

Lima turned to independent baseball and joined Rickey Henderson with the Newark Bears. He went 6-1, was signed by the Kansas City Royals June 11, and revived his career with an 8-3 second half (4.91 ERA) that he said would have been better if he hadn't pulled a groin muscle in August.

Lima said he didn't return to the Royals because they only offered a $500,000 salary, compared to the $900,000 deal he signed with the Dodgers that allows him to become a free agent if he isn't on the big-league club by May 1.

But the Dodgers know better than anyone the old Hollywood adage (with a twist), "You can never be too thin, too rich or have too many pitchers."

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