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GOODEN LOOKS SHARP AS METS HALT ASTROS

Dwight Gooden's season will start a lot sooner than the New York Mets expected.

Springtraining Gooden, taking another step in his recovery from rotator cuff surgery, pitched five strong innings for the victory as the Mets beat the Houston Astros 3-1 Wednesday at Kissimmee, Fla.

After the game, manager Jeff Torborg said Gooden would be the scheduled starter for the Mets' home opener against Montreal on April 10. The Mets open the season on April 6 at St. Louis.

"I saw great signs of a guy who makes adjustments," Torborg said. "The guy is a pitcher."

Gooden (1-0) allowed just three hits, walked one and struck out three. Of his 57 pitches, 36 were strikes.

Gooden said he felt no pain in his shoulder after his second official spring outing. He also has pitched in a simulated game and a "B" game against Los Angeles.

"There's still no discomfort," he said. "The main thing was I was able to throw to spots as the game went on."

In other exhibition baseball action it was Mariners 7, Athletics 5; Tigers 2, Reds 1; Expos 4 * , Braves 0; Expos * 3, Dodgers 2; Pirates 11, Twins 7 ; Red Sox 1, Orioles 1 ; Padres 8, Giants 7 * ; Brewers 9, Indians 4; Angels 4, Cubs 2; Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1; White Sox 4, Rangers 1; Giants * 4, Mariners * 3.

Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh's All-Star left fielder, suffered an abrasion to the cornea of his right eye when he was struck by a batted ball during batting practice Wednesday. The injury isn't believed serious and Bonds is expected to return to the lineup this week.

The 1990 National League Most Valuable Player and last year's MVP runner-up will wear a patch for a day or two to protect the eye. Bonds probably will be sidelined for two to three days, Pirates trainer Kent Biggerstaff said.

Meanwhile, the safety of Scottsdale Stadium, site of Matt Keough's near-fatal injury last week, again was called into question when the 8-month-old daughter of San Francisco Giants pitcher Bryan Hickerson was hurt by a foul ball.

Emily Jo Hickerson sustained a bruised cheek after Matt Williams of the Giants tipped a ball straight back into the stands Wednesday night. Jo Hickerson, Bryan's wife, tried to shield the infant, but the force of the ball drove her hand into her daughter's face.

Paramedics examined the baby and determined she had a contusion. Jo Hickerson's hand also was bruised.

"She was kind of in shock and was hyperventilating," Hickerson said of his wife.

Questions were raised about the new $7 million stadium, particularly about the close-range dugouts and the low home-plate screen, after Keough was hit in the head by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout.

Giants general manager Al Rosen said last week that a higher screen, possibly with netting overhead, would be built. But Bob Frost, Scottsdale's general manager, said he did not think there needed to be any changes.