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Angels '87 : A Bullpen in Need of a Little Relief : Mauch Is Hoping Sore Arms Won't Be a Pain in the Neck

April 03, 1987|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

Don't believe any of that stuff you read in those baseball magazines about the Angels' bullpen.

So the Angel relievers injected enough cortisone last season to send pharmaceutical stocks soaring. So they dabbled in ultrasound, acupuncture, electric stimulation and traction therapy . . . not to mention the usual whirlpools and heat and ice treatments. So maybe they spent more time with the physical therapist than with a baseball.

That's no reason to think the Angel bullpen will be in the same disfigured shape this year, is it?

Last season was your basic manager's nightmare. The bullpen was fragmented, to put it mildly. There haven't been that many blown arms since the last Rambo movie.

A strong starting rotation and some good-looking rookies could mean a dream team for the Angels in 1987. A bunch of sore-armed relievers could turn that dream scary in a hurry.

Manager Gene Mauch prefers to look at it from the it-can't-get-much-worse perspective.

"After last year, I think we can handle anything," he said. "I just don't see the vulnerability some other people do."

A quick look back :

Donnie Moore pulled something in his rib cage during training camp in 1986, his mechanics deteriorated and he ended up hurting his shoulder.

In 1985, Moore was one of the premier relief pitchers in baseball and had the numbers--31 saves, 1.92 earned run average--to prove it. In 1986, he didn't regain his form until June (after spending 15 days on the disabled list) and still ended the season in pain.

"I never did feel good last year," Moore said. "It was the first time I'd ever had arm problems. I didn't say anything, but it hurt even with the cortisone.

"Because of the rib problem, my spring training was the Freeway Series (against the Dodgers). Then the season started and I had to get in shape and get people out at the same time. I'm going out there against these hackin' SOBs and I'm not in shape. It's hard enough when you are in shape. I blew my arm trying to get in shape."

That was Woe No. 1.

Gary Lucas' lower back, which kept the left-hander sidelined the first half of the year, was No. 2. Lucas, who had to be carried off the mound in Palm Springs last spring, finally recovered and pitched in only 27 games. He was 4-1 with a 3.15 ERA.

Woe No. 3 was the decline and fall of Stewart Cliburn, Moore's right-handed set-up man. Cliburn had a 9-3 record in 1985 and then went from hero to zero.

He developed serious shoulder problems in the spring, didn't throw a pitch in a big-league game last season and finally underwent arthroscopic surgery Nov. 18.

Left-hander Chuck Finley was the sole pleasant surprise of '86. He filled the role of middle man admirably, emerging with a 3-1 record and seven saves.

The Angel bullpen's season of discontent was summed up when Lucas hit Boston's Rich Gedman and then Moore threw that 2-and-2 split-fingered fastball to Dave Henderson in the ninth inning of the infamous Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

The most frustrating defeat in the franchise's history seemed destined to be hung on the relief corps like a badge of discourage.

Back to the present . . . and future.

Mauch says he remains confident that the bullpen will be healthy and effective this season. But, every once in a while, a little doubt shows through.

He was sitting in the dugout in Palm Springs recently, admiring the graceful glide of rookie outfielder Devon White and said:

"We're very aware that a team can get hammered, I mean really hammered, trying to break three or four new players into the starting lineup at one time. But you have a lot better chance of getting away with it when you have the stability provided by our starting pitching . . . make that pitching staff."

Bullpen included, but as an afterthought.

With Gene Mauch, you have to read between the lines. With Donnie Moore, you have to be willing to wait out his macho rantings. He gets a kick out of talking brash, but beneath the facade is a serious-minded realist.

"Our bullpen is a little weak," he said. "Lucas was hurting, Finley's not throwing too good, Cliburn's coming off surgery, myself, I'm still suspect to you guys, although I think I'm throwing all right. Yeah, we're a little suspect right now."

Moore, who considered arthroscopic surgery after last season, opted for a specialized weight-training program. After suffering a slight recurrence of rib pain two weeks ago, Moore's arm seems to be coming around. His velocity was up to the low 90s two weeks ago and he said then that he needed only to pitch on back-to-back days without discomfort to be ready.

"My role won't change," said Moore, who has added a sinker to his repertoire during the off-season. "I'll be the short man and I'll try to get the job done on a day-to-day basis. The big thing for me now is to get a day off if I've pitched a couple of days in a row."

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