ARLINGTON, Tex. — The evidence was suspicious, but when the topic of Mike Witt's physical condition was broached Monday night, the Angels denied that anything was wrong.
Witt, a pitcher who left only two of his 34 outings before the seventh inning last season, couldn't get out of the third inning against the Texas Rangers in a game the Angels eventually won, 7-3.
He lasted just 2 innings before giving way to relievers DeWayne Buice and Greg Minton, a stint that amounted to Witt's shortest since 1983. Witt walked two batters in the first inning, walked another and surrendered a single in the second and served up three more hits in the third--including a two-run home run by Scott Fletcher, the Texas shortstop who averages a home run every two months.
Before Witt could record his eighth out of the game, Angel Manager Gene Mauch interceded. Pitching coach Marcel Lachemann was dispatched to the mound but before he arrived, Witt had already begun his walk to the dugout.
Something definitely didn't look right, but Mauch maintained the early exit was brought on by the pitches that were hit and not by a pitcher who was hurting.
"Michael didn't have much when he drove up tonight and he didn't show much more when he got out there," Mauch said. "There have been nights like this before, when his better stuff shows up later. But it never did tonight."
Witt wasn't injured, Mauch claimed--although the manager admitted he was taking precautions to keep it that way.
"You know the saying, 'Get him out of there before he hurts somebody'? " Mauch said. "With Mike, it was, 'Get him out of there before he gets hurt.'
"If he goes beyond himself, trying to find something, he could get hurt."
Witt left the mound craning his neck, as if he were trying to work out some stiffness. He was asked if that had been a problem.
"No, my neck didn't bother me," Witt said.
How about the arm?
"There were no bones sticking out of it," he answered tersely.
"I guess Gene didn't want to let the game get out of hand," Witt said of his early dismissal. "It turned out to be the best move he made all night."
At the time of Witt's departure, the Angels trailed, 3-2. But then Buice and Minton came on to shut the Rangers down the rest of the way, yielding five singles and no runs over the final 6 innings.
Buice worked 4 innings--his lengthiest appearance as a major league player--to earn the victory, evening his record at 3-3. Minton pitched the final 2 innings to record his first American League save.
"Great relief pitching," Mauch called it. "We went as far as we could go with Buice. He was outstanding. If you don't keep it under control in the fourth and fifth innings, the ninth inning isn't going to matter."
By reputation, Buice is a short-relief pitcher. By physique, he is a skinny relief pitcher. He's listed in the Angel media guide at 185 pounds, but concedes he's closer to 165--after Thanksgiving dinner.
"I think you're down to 120 after tonight," pitcher Jack Lazorko joked when he spotted Buice, drenched with perspiration and slumped in front of his locker stall.
Buice slowly nodded.
"I was very happy when Lach came out to get me," Buice said. "When I had to cover first on that play in the seventh (an infield single by Texas' Jerry Browne), that spent all my energy."
By the time Buice turned the baseball over to Minton, the Angels had rallied to score four runs and had taken a 6-3 lead. Mark McLemore tripled in one run and then scored on a Brian Downing groundout in the fourth inning. The Angels added two more runs in the seventh, when Downing singled in front of back-to-back doubles by White and Wally Joyner.
White drove in the Angels' final run in the eighth inning with a single that scored Gary Pettis from third. White wound up with three hits, which were nicely complemented by a flashy outfield assist in the top of the sixth inning. Texas' Larry Parrish drove a Buice pitch high off the wall in right--a sure double, it appeared--but White quickly fielded the ball and fired a strong relay to the infield to throw out Parrish at second.
"He has nights when he shows you everything you can ask a ballplayer to do," Mauch said of White.
And the Angels needed it Monday, a night when Mike Witt was not able to complete the task usually asked of him.
Donnie Moore received an anti-inflammatory shot in his rib cage Monday, giving him as many sets of injections this season as saves--five. Moore had his ribs injected with cortisone once (April 19) and with nerve-block medication three times (May 22, May 26 and June 11) before Monday. Moore, who hasn't pitched in a month, is scheduled to be re-examined by doctors in Los Angeles Wednesday.
Doctor's tests have determined the cause of the soreness in Mark McLemore's right arm--elbow tendinitis--but McLemore will attempt to play with the condition. "It's something that built up during the season," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "These kids work a lot these days."