Meloan 's On the Fast Track

VERO BEACH, Fla.- The Dodger closer- past Eric Gagne has started his comeback with the Texas Rangers. Closer- present Takashi Saito is on the scene here and, for that matter, so is closer- future Jonathan Broxton. So where does that leave Jon Meloan?

The unexpected success of Saito last summer prompted the Dodgers to make an offer lowball enough that Gagne departed. It's also because of Broxton that they feel that if Saito proves to be just one of those things, they already have his successor.

Yet, from what Meloan has shown them both last season and this spring, they're now tempted to let him try closing and see what happens. He hasn't really done it so far but it might not be too far down the road that he could be handed that role.

Meloan was a starter at this time a year ago or was, until a tender elbow sidelined him. It was to monitor his work load that he was put in the bullpen upon his return whereupon he became a revelation. He pitched his way from low A (Columbus_ through high A (Vero Beach) to AA (Jacksonville) in the space of two months, throwing better at each stop. He then put in post-season time in the Arizona Fall League where he was every bit as impressive.

He's been that way this spring, too. As a non-roster performer in the big league camp, he showed his stuff for Grady Little in a manner that suggests his minor league stay this year could be abbreviated.

He has a mid-90's fast ball and a hard slider than could stand him in good stead should he try closing. Every bit as important is his demeanor for he has a strong competitive streak that's ideal for that type role.

The soundness of his arm is another matter for anytime somebody has problems they have to be wary. He didn't have an operation last year for the problem appeared to be muscular and he worked it out. Still, the warning alarms went off and they'll be careful.

Right now Meloan is working with Las Vegas, a team for which Lance Carter closed last season. Carter's in Japan now so the job is vacant. It could possibly be Meloan's but there could well be other candidates. How about Chin-hui Tsao? He's still with the big club but doesn't appear likely to make that staff. He was anointed Colorado's save man before his shoulder injury. His fragility has to be very much in question, though.

By rights, the job should go to Mark Alexander. After all, he was the save leader for the organization last year and is quite ready for AAA having spent most of last year with Jacksonville.

He, however, doesn't have Meloan's stuff and will once again have to rely on his curve and sagacity to demonstrate to the brass that he's better than they think he is.

If he does that, then Meloan could go down a notch if they still desire him to be a closer. Or, become a setup man.

It really doesn't matter to him. He, quite naturally, wants the job that will get him to the big leagues the fastest. Whatever the case, he still seems to be moving in the fast lane on a journey that should end in L.A.