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Texas Finds a Treasure in Leibrandt : Baseball: Pitching-poor Rangers strike it rich with left-hander, who went eight innings to beat Angels.

June 16, 1993|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Charlie Leibrandt won 15 games in each of the last two seasons for the Atlanta Braves. He pitched well in the playoffs both years.

Yet, he was expendable.

The Braves found themselves with one too many starters after signing National League Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux during the off-season. Leibrandt, at 36 and with a $2.3-million contract, was considered disposable.

Well, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

The pitching-poor Texas Rangers couldn't refuse. They got Leibrandt for a song and have been humming a happy tune about it ever since.

"Things have worked out," Leibrandt said. "I'm getting a chance to pitch."

Tuesday was just another Leibrandt special. He went eight innings, giving up four runs in a 6-5 victory over the Angels at Anaheim Stadium.

It gave Leibrandt a record of 7-3.

"I don't know where we'd be without him," Ranger Manager Kevin Kennedy said.

Out of the race, perhaps?

The Rangers' pitching staff has struggled because of injuries and inconsistency. But they are only three games behind the division-leading Kansas City Royals.

Leibrandt, who has pitched for Cincinnati, Kansas City and Atlanta, is one of the reasons they are in contention.

"I figured he could win 15-16 games for us," Kennedy said. "So when he became available, I told (General Manager) Tom (Grieve) to grab him."

Before this season, Leibrandt was last seen as the losing pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series. He gave up two runs in two innings of the Braves' 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 11 innings.

It was not a World Series worth remembering for Leibrandt. Nor was the previous one. Leibrandt was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA as the Braves lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games in 1991.

"People tend to remember your last at-bat or your last start," Kennedy said. "People remembered what Charlie did against Toronto. They forgot that he carried that club part of the season."

As he is doing now, only this time he's toting around the Rangers.

When Maddux, a 20-game winner, arrived in Atlanta, the Braves had a staff to die for. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery were the other reasons Leibrandt was not needed.

Never mind that at 15-7, he was the second-winningest left-hander in the National League. The Braves had pitching depth and Leibrandt had a large contract, loaded with incentives.

The Braves gave him up for minor league infielder Jose Oliva. They even threw in a minor leaguer of their own, pitcher Pat Gomez, into the deal.

"I need to be out there every five days," Leibrandt said. "The Braves had five or six good starters. I need to be out there."

The Rangers, with little pitching and plenty of hitting, were happy to oblige.

Leibrandt doesn't muscle batters. The velocity on his fastball is probably closer to that of actress Meg Ryan than Nolan Ryan.

But he combines 11 years of experience with a rather nasty change to nickel-and-dime hitters. He struck out only four Tuesday, but walked only one. He also didn't give the Angels much to hit.

They scored single runs in the second and sixth innings, but they never really got to him. His herky-jerky motion kept them off-balance most of the game.

"He has as good a change as (Jimmy) Key," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. "He doesn't have the fastball, but he sets up hitters. The worst thing a hitter can do is start guessing with him."

The Rangers, however, guessed right.

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