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Indians' Bullpen Has Its Own Macho Man : Ernie Camacho Returns From Surgery to Become Cleveland's Short Stopper

June 29, 1986|STEVE KRESAL

The pain that Ernie Camacho felt in his right arm early in the 1985 season lasted only a few days, until he underwent surgery April 13.

But the pain of not having their top relief pitcher lingered the entire season for the Cleveland Indians, who finished last in the American League East with the league's worst record, 60-102.

Cleveland's bullpen saved only 28 games without Camacho, who lost, 5-4, on opening day to the Detroit Tigers and pitched only once more before being placed on the disabled list for the rest of the season. Tom Waddell took over for Camacho and led the Indians with nine saves in 1985.

"It was just a disaster last season," said Pat Corrales, Cleveland manager. "If you don't have a closing pitcher you can't win close games, and we didn't win too many close games last season."

In 1984, Camacho established a Cleveland single-season record with 23 saves. That year, the Indians finished 75-87 with 35 team saves. Kansas City's Dan Quisenberry led the league with 44.

The first surgery performed on Camacho in April, 1985, didn't fully correct the trouble and his arm was again operated on in late October. This time the problem--bone chips in his right elbow--was corrected.

But how soon Camacho would be able to pitch again could not be determined until spring training. He surprised many by pitching from the first day of camp, and he has not been bothered by his elbow this season.

In his first six save opportunities of 1986, Camacho registered six saves and the Indians jumped out to an early lead in the East.

"I thought I was going to have trouble in the spring," Camacho said. "We were in a lot of close ball games, but I was up a lot of times and was pitching well."

Early in May, however, Camacho started to have trouble with his right shoulder. His fastball lost the speed needed to be effective, and he went on the 15-day disabled list May 14. During his rehabilitation period, Camacho strengthened his shoulder by lifting weights.

"The year of not throwing was what did it to my shoulder," Camacho said. "Since I was 3 years old I've been throwing something, rocks, newspapers or a baseball, but always something. Then I stopped all that. It was hard to just not throw for a year. My shoulder just got too weak during the layoff."

Camacho (1-1) returned to the Indians' bullpen May 29 and has recorded four saves since, including three last week to give him 10 for the season.

Camacho saved the first of the three-game series against the Angels Friday night in Anaheim when he struck out George Hendrick for the final out as the Indians won, 6-3.

He suffered his first loss against Seattle Tuesday night when he walked the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth before giving up a game-winning two-run double to Jim Presley. He had recorded his ninth save the night before.

"I don't want to bring him in before the ninth, but sometimes I have to," Corrales said. "If I could, I would hold off using him until as late as I can."

Said Camacho: "You really have to give a lot of the credit to Pat (Corrales). He used me and has had confidence in the job I can do for this team."

Rookie left-hander Scott Bailes (7-4, six saves) has become the middle reliever, entering in the sixth or seventh inning and getting the Indians into a situation where they can use Camacho.

Now in his fourth season with the Indians, Camacho, 30, joined the club in a 1983 trade that sent him, Gorman Thomas and Jamie Easterly from Milwaukee to Cleveland for Rick Manning and Rick Waits.

Camacho was drafted and signed by Oakland in 1976. He made his first major league appearance for the A's in May, 1980. The following season, Oakland traded him to Pittsburgh for Bob Owchinko.

In 1982, he was traded, with Vance Law, to the Chicago White Sox for Ross Baumgarten and Butch Edge. Camacho became a free agent at the end of the 1982 season and signed with Milwaukee.

He has spent eight seasons in the minors.

"It (play in the majors) was what I wanted to do," Camacho said. "All I was waiting for was someone to give me a chance."

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