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BASEBALL PREVIEW : Angel Clubhouse More of a Fun House This Season : Prospectus: But team must avoid last season's comedy of errors to contend in American League West.

April 07, 1991|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only part of Dave Parker's ostrich-skin briefcase was visible amid the clutter in his locker, so when rookie pitcher Scott Lewis saw it, he thought it looked like a purse.

And he dared to say so to Parker, who began his baseball career when Lewis was beginning kindergarten.

Drawing himself up to his full 6-foot-5, 250-pound majesty, Parker pretended to take offense. "Any problem with the way I look?" he asked Lewis, pointing to his outfit and briefcase.

Lewis, playing along, pretended to be terrified. "No problem," he said. "Sir."

The Angels' clubhouse, once somnolent and sour, is a fun place to be these days.

"Everybody here is lively and energetic," said Manager Doug Rader, who starts his third season with the security of a new two-year contract and greater say in personnel decisions.

"People always wonder why ballplayers don't stay around the clubhouse more and chew the fat. It's tough to do when people in the clubhouse don't like each other. The people here get along."

Not only are they getting along, General Manager Mike Port believes they can go so far as to win the American League West title.

"Go around by position," Port said. "If Lance Parrish is Lance Parrish, Wally (Joyner) is Wally, Luis Sojo and on around through the pitching, yes, we can win it. And that's without asking any one of those guys to be anything he hasn't been before. That's not saying Wally Joyner has to hit 45 homers (after hitting 37 the past three seasons), or Dick Schofield (a career .233 hitter), has to hit .322.

"If they are what they have been in the past and they're able to take the field with regularity, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."

They won 80 games last season after winning 91 in 1989 and giving the Oakland A's a serious challenge that summer. Injuries, a porous defense that committed 142 errors--second to the Milwaukee Brewers--and inconsistent offensive production undermined their 1990 effort and left them 12 games out of first place by May.

Port was relieved of many administrative duties last fall in a shake-up that made him responsible to Richard Brown, the club's president and chief executive officer. Since then, Port has made some uncharacteristically bold moves to balance the offense and solidify the defense. He may be more successful with his offensive maneuvers than the defensive moves: Sojo is dexterous but inexperienced at second base and Junior Felix's experience in center field is limited, making the entire outfield questionable.

Overall, the Angels seem to have more dimensions than home-run hitting, their staple in 1989, and starting pitching, on which they relied too much last season.

"We're going to have a lot of fun and a good ballclub," Parker said. "We're very secure defensively, we've got good starting pitching, a good bullpen. We're a complete ballclub, but you've got to execute . . . We match up well with anyone in the league. We can go blow to blow with anyone."

There's also enough speed and contact hitters for Rader to use the hit-and-run.

"When you can diversify your offensive approach, it gives you more chances to score," Rader said. "You're not going to hit for power all year long, and when you have the capability of manufacturing runs all year, it helps you to be a little more consistent."

Chuck Finley proved himself the Angels' most consistent and gutsiest pitcher last season, winning a career-best 18 games and finishing second to Roger Clemens with a 2.40 earned-run average. Kirk McCaskill squeezed 12 victories out of a right elbow that required post-season surgery, and has looked impressive since regaining greater range of motion.

Mark Langston endured stretches when he pitched well and got little offensive help, but he didn't help himself by giving up 61 runs with two out, more than half the 120 runs he allowed. Opponents hit .375 after a 2 and 0 count and .441 after a 3 and 1 count, and .259 overall. Only by winning five of his last seven decisions did he reach double figures in victories, at 10-17. He might feel more relaxed with his transitional year behind him.

Jim Abbott has never lacked courage, but he has lacked an effective third pitch and the ability to retire left-handers, who hit better than .300 against him in each of his first two seasons. Bert Blyleven's slow recovery from shoulder surgery might idle him for the first two months of the season and threatens his career; right-hander Scott Lewis, who prevailed over Joe Grahe in their competition for Blyleven's place in the rotation, isn't a power pitcher, but his poise and control are promising.

The bullpen is a possible trouble spot. Bryan Harvey returns as the club's all-time save leader, but he had bouts of wildness last season and may always be subject to control problems. Left-hander Bob McClure, who missed most of last season because of tendinitis in his pitching elbow, won't be ready when the season starts because of tightness in his pitching shoulder. He was being counted on to face one or two batters in tough situations.

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