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Angel Leadoff Hitter Proves Over-Achiever : Ruppert Jones Is Leaving Nothing to Clean Up

July 20, 1986|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

Leadoff hitters are supposed to be the kind of guys who get on base any way they can, steal second in a blur of speed and cloud of dust, and wait for the so-called heart of the lineup to bring them home.

They're supposed to leave the home runs for the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters. They're supposed to be the mess a cleanup hitter cleans up.

Someone apparently failed to inform Ruppert Jones of all this, and that is perfectly all right with Angel Manager Gene Mauch.

Jones didn't get on base to lead off Saturday's game against Toronto in Anaheim Stadium. He circled the bases. He sent the first pitch from beleaguered Blue Jay pitcher Dave Stieb just inside the right-field foul pole to begin the Angels' latest outpouring of affection for pitcher John Candelaria. It was the third time Jones has led off with a home run this season.

Jones hit a three-run homer to right-center in the seventh inning to finish the game with a line in the box score one might expect to find listed next to a No. 4 hitter: 4 (at-bats), 3 (runs), 2 (hits), 4 (RBIs). All of which contributed rather nicely to the Angels' 9-3 win.

Jones' statistics suggest that he's not the kind of leadoff man who waits for his teammates to drive him in. The two home runs--the sixth time in his career he has hit two in one game--give him 11 for the season. Of his 61 hits in 90 games, 33 have been for extra bases. He is hitting .351 (13 for 37) in his last 10 games.

All of which has Mauch feeling pretty comfortable about putting Jones' name at the top of his lineup card.

"There's nothing wrong with Ruppert leading off," Mauch said. "His on-base percentage is well over .400, which is real good. He has a lot of experience leading off, and he enjoys it."

It wasn't always that way. Jones said he used to find himself taking good pitches or falling behind on the count, 0-2, when Mauch first began using him regularly in the leadoff role in early June.

"When I first started doing it, I wasn't as comfortable as I am now," Jones said. "I've had time to get acclimated to it. Now, the philosophy is continuous. Every day's the same."

For Mauch, Jones' recent surge has stirred memories of an Angel leadoff hitter of the past. "It's sort of like when Brian (Downing) led off for me in '82," Mauch said.

That season, Downing hit .281 with a career-high 28 home runs and 84 RBIs. In six games he hit a home run in his first at-bat, tying an American League record. It was also the last time the Angels won a divisional championship. Maybe Mauch is thinking Jones can produce similar numbers with a similar end result this season.

In the meantime, If Jones doesn't always act like a leadoff hitter, at least he's learning to talk like one.

"When you've got guys like (Wally) Joyner, Downing, (Reggie) Jackson and (Doug) DeCinces hitting behind you, you can really start a lot of things by getting on base," he said.

Or you can just dispense with the formalities and start things off with a bang, as Jones did Saturday.

Said Mauch: "There's nothing wrong with starting a game one run ahead."

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