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Joyner Fits the Bill for Cleanup : He Has Ideal Temperament to Bat Fourth for Angels

June 27, 1989|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

The Angels' cleanup hitter hit a home run the other day. This is notable in that the Angels' cleanup hitter hit his last home run in April and the one before that in September.

The Angels' cleanup hitter can recite the dates of his three most recent home runs from memory--Sept. 1, April 27, June 25. He went 169 at-bats between the last two. Before that, he went 183 at-bats between home runs.

So why do the Angels employ such a cleanup hitter?

Because Wally Joyner has to bat somewhere.

Doug Rader, the Angel manager, has tinkered with different names in the No. 4 batting slot. Devon White spent some time there, but generally proved too free a swinger for the assignment. Lance Parrish struck out too often. Brian Downing got a trial run, too, but if he isn't batting leadoff, he feels most comfortable hitting in the lower half of the lineup.

"I think Wally's the only one who really has the makeup to do it," Rader said in early June.

By that, Rader meant temperament, the kind that can deal with the pressures of the job--having to hit with runners on base, having to drive in important runs, having to put the ball in the air when the situation calls for a sacrifice fly.

"Nothing bothers him," Rader said of Joyner. "He catches the ball, he hits the ball, he's got a terrific attitude. What else can you ask of a guy?"

A few home runs?

Joyner used to be able to hit them. In 1987, he had 34 of them. As a rookie in 1986, he hit 22, 16 of those during the first six weeks.

Since the end of the 1987 season, however, Joyner has managed just 15 home runs--13 in 1988 and two in 1989.

Where has all the power gone?

Theories have abounded. Lately, Rader has hit upon a new one. He bases it on the idea that because Joyner started the 1989 season so poorly--.213 after April, .247 after May--he had to first regain his singles-hitting stroke before he could indulge in thoughts of grander things.

"Wally was struggling so hard early on, he first had to get feeling good about himself," Rader said. "That's hard to do when you're hitting .180. Hit .180 and try to hit home runs and you'll end up hitting .140.

"Wally went out and worked on getting his swing back and getting his average up to where he's comfortable with it. The way he's gone about it is probably the soundest way. Most people panic.

"Once he gets up to .290, .300, the rest will fall into place. The rest will come by accident."

Since June 1, Joyner has raised his batting average 44 points to .291, so, apparently, Joyner is feeling comfortable again.

Joyner has batted cleanup before. Gene Mauch and Cookie Rojas both tried him there, but Joyner's best hitting has been done while batting third in the order, away from the glare that goes with the No. 4 spot.

"I think I had a mental block about hitting there my first two years," Joyner said. "There are expectations that go with being the No. 4 hitter. One, you have to hit the ball hard every time. Two, you have to hit home runs. Whenever I hit fourth, I (felt) so much outside pressure that it was hard for me to do much of anything."

Joyner still doesn't regard himself as a true cleanup hitter. He knows what they look like--Mark McGwire, Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry, Bo Jackson.

"I've never considered myself a home run hitter," he said. "Coming into my first year, the expectations of Wally Joyner were: good line-drive hitter, maybe 10 to 15 home runs, maybe 80 RBIs a year.

"All of a sudden, I've got 217 RBIs and 60 home runs in two years. I was just as surprised as everybody else.

"I think I created some expectations. It made it hard for me to live up to them--the expectations of others, not mine.

"I probably won't hit 34 homers again in a season. But that doesn't mean I'm not ever going to have a good season again. If I don't hit 34 home runs, does that make me unsuccessful? No."

And right now, the Angels need their cleanup hitter to drive in runs, be it with singles, doubles, sacrifice flies or ground-outs.

"I'm hitting fourth because I'm hot right now," Joyner said. "I'm getting my base hits. And if I'm getting my base hits batting fourth, there's a better chance to get us some runs."

If the Angels can handle a cleanup hitter who clears the fences every other month, Joyner figures he can handle the rest of it.

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