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Lugo, Fraser Have Work Cut Out New Angel Pitchers Reduced to Spot Starters This Month

May 05, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

If you want to know what's up with Urbano Lugo and Willie Fraser, the new faces in the Angels' pitching rotation, first take a look at their ERAs.

Lugo's has risen with every start--from 6.75 to 7.30 to 7.81 to its current 9.28. Giving up three-run homers in consecutive innings, as Lugo managed during his last outing, is one way of maintaining such a stirring pace.

Fraser, the 22-year-old pride of the bullpen for a few weeks, was 1-0 with 1 save and a 1.46 earned-run average before the Kirk McCaskill emergency developed. Fraser was thrust into the rotation and, since then, his ERA has risen to 6.00, the result of four home runs and seven walks in two starts.

Last week, the Angel pitching staff completed one of its rockiest stretches in recent memory--allowing 59 runs in 7 games. Fraser and Lugo combined to start four games in that span. The final scores, all Angel losses, were 8-7, 10-5, 12-4 and 12-3.

What was that about the Angels' reservoir of young pitching talent? What was that about Lugo and Fraser being the best and the brightest?

"Everything is going bad now," Lugo says.

Adds Fraser: "Everybody has their ups and downs. It's going to take a little time. I'm still getting used to major league hitters. . . . But the Angels have trust in my stuff. If they didn't, they wouldn't keep me here."

That trust, however, has been shaken by recent events. The first week of May may be too soon to panic, as Manager Gene Mauch has suggested, but it isn't too early to begin tinkering with the rotation. If all goes according to the way Mauch has drawn it out, Lugo and Fraser will be reduced to spot starters for the rest of the month.

Mike Witt will pitch on three days' rest Wednesday in Milwaukee so Mauch can set up a pitching schedule that will have Witt, John Candelaria and Don Sutton starting 17 games in a stretch of 22.

"The kids will split the other five," Mauch said.

That may be one way for the Angels to temporarily cut their losses. It certainly is difficult to contend for first place when you're getting blown out twice every five days.

But it is, at best, only a short-term solution. Once the days off start dwindling in June, the Angels will have to resort again to a five-man rotation--40% of which has yet to extend a start beyond the fifth inning.

When that is mentioned in the Angel clubhouse, McCaskill's name surfaces and resurfaces.

When McCaskill went out with a shoulder injury that could sideline him for three months, Fraser was pried out of the bullpen and Lugo suddenly became a key figure on the club.

"It's tough to break up the chain of command," McCaskill admitted the other day. "I'm sure Willie was comfortable in the bullpen. The continuity was broken up."

McCaskill, however, may yet serve the Angels, as a model. As a rookie in 1985, he was 0-4 after his first six starts. "I was one start away from getting sent down," he said.

Instead, McCaskill held the defending World Series champion Detroit Tigers hitless for 6 innings and earned a reprieve. He then went 12-8 the rest of the season.

"That's why you have to be patient with young pitchers," Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said. "McCaskill was fighting for his life, too. As long as they're making progress. . . . "

Earned-run averages of 9.27 and 6.00 would seem to indicate regression, but Lachemann said: "I haven't given up on them. It's probably more frustrating to me than them. If the ability is there, it's my job to get it out of them. And it's there."

Lachemann points to Lugo's last start as an example. Lugo opened the game by striking out Boston's Wade Boggs and Marty Barrett. "Those are two of the tougher guys in the league to strike out," he said.

Then, in the second inning, Lugo walked two batters and allowed a two-run double by rookie Ellis Burks. In the fourth, he walked another hitter, setting up a three-run homer by Boggs--on an 0-and-2 pitch. And in the fifth, he walked one more hitter--and served up one more three-run homer, this one by Dwight Evans.

"It's not like there's no hope," Lachemann said. "He still shows us signs that, if he gets into the right program, he can win. The approach he took into the first inning, he has to maintain that."

Lugo agreed that much of the problem stems from lapses in concentration.

"This is the first time I've ever gone through something like this," he said. "Not in the minor leagues, never. I keep making bad pitches at bad moments. I get two outs--and then, a single. I walk somebody--and then, a home run. The bases on balls (15 in 22 innings) have really hurt me."

With Fraser, the problem has had more to do with transition.

"There's a big change in attitude, going from relief pitching to starting," Mauch said. "Willie relieved six or seven times and then he's starting. As a reliever, you're thinking, 'I'm gonna go as hard as I can go for one inning or two.' As a starter, Willie had lost some of that aggressiveness.

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