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Baseball : McCaskill Is Optimistic About His Arm as Camp Approaches

February 07, 1988|Ross Newhan

Which Kirk will have greater impact on the fate of his team--Gibson or McCaskill?

While the Dodgers will pay Gibson considerably more, McCaskill figures to be just as pivotal to the Angels.

While the media hoopla has surrounded Gibson's signing, McCaskill has quietly begun to test his suspect elbow by throwing breaking pitches three times a week at Anaheim Stadium.

Two weeks before the Angels report to Mesa, Ariz., for the start of spring training, McCaskill said he expects to be ready for the start of the season.

"I feel real good about it," he said. "I've worked hard. I've come a long way. There's every indication I'm going to continue to improve."

McCaskill, it will be recalled, gave up a budding hockey career with the Winnipeg Jets and won 17 games with the Angels in 1986, his first full major league season.

Then, after pitching a four-hit shutout in Seattle last April 15, he yielded to discomfort in his right elbow, went on the disabled list April 24, had bone chips removed April 27, and was reactivated July 11. He soon began experiencing new soreness in the elbow, went 2-6 with a 6.88 earned-run average over his last 10 starts and made his final appearance Sept. 4.

Now, with the Angels boasting a potentially potent lineup in a vastly improved division, McCaskill's return seems imperative.

In fact, a rotation of Mike Witt and a series of question marks would appear thin, even if McCaskill is part of it.

McCaskill is confident he will be. He knows what he means to the team. But he is also prepared to follow a disciplined timetable, having learned a difficult lesson last summer.

"I proved in '86 what kind of pitcher I am," he said. "It's only a matter of being healthy to do it again.

"But I've got to go on how I feel and take one step at a time. There's no sense wasting four months of hard work by doing something stupid."

McCaskill thinks he may have done that after his surgery, giving up on his rehabilitation regimen too quickly and rushing back to the mound. Maybe it was the hockey player's disregard for physical peril. Maybe it was just a young athlete ignoring advice.

"Everybody and his brother told me to take my time, but my instincts told me I had to get back as soon as possible," McCaskill said. "I pushed it too hard. I was back pitching when I should have been stretching still and strengthening the elbow."

Medical tests showed that the new discomfort was not the result of bone or nerve damage. McCaskill said he had simply not taken the time to break down the scar tissue.

"It took a long time and was a very painful process when I started to do it," McCaskill said, referring to his winter of stretching and weight lifting. "I couldn't even touch my hand to my ear when the season ended. I can't say I'm 100% yet, but my flexibility has come a long way."

McCaskill said he dispelled many of his own concerns when he threw lightly, but without pain, in an October test for pitching coach Marcel Lachemann and physical therapist Roger Williams. He then did not throw again until early January. Now, he said, he's about 80% and experiencing no problems, mixing breaking pitches with his fastball.

In fact, he said he is past the point of being a concern and being concerned.

"I just have to keep it stretched out now," he said.

"Last year was very frustrating. I had never experienced anything like it. As a hockey player I was used to playing every day, so that even sitting on the bench between starts is hard for me. It was terrible to have to sit there for two months straight, but every pitcher is going to be injured at one time or another.

"I just hope I got mine out of the way early."

The Kansas City Royals, obviously concerned about the wide-ranging improvements in the American League West, have shown an uncharacteristic interest in free agents, making late offers to designated hitter Don Baylor, who is also being courted by the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics, and Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.

The Royals used five catchers last year who combined for 10 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Fisk, at 39, hit 23 homers and drove in 71 runs.

Raider running back Bo Jackson will accept a minor league demotion by the Royals if it will help perpetuate his baseball career, attorney Richard Woods told the Kansas City Star.

"We've discussed it and he's willing to go to the lowest league in baseball," Woods said. "He'll go to Omaha, Memphis, Ft. Meyer and Eugene (the Royals' lowest classification).

"Obviously, he doesn't want to go, but he's willing. In fact, he said Eugene would be nice because they've got good fishing there.

"Of course, he'd also hit .500."

Harry Dalton has never been taken to arbitration in 11 years as the Milwaukee Brewers' general manager, but Dalton may not be able to avoid the process with pitcher Ted Higuera and outfielder Rob Deer.

Higuera, who made $300,000 while going 18-10 last year, filed for $1.25 million. Dalton countered at $900,000.

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