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Percival's Performance a Sight for Sore Eyes

August 02, 1995|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — There's nothing like poor eyesight and a 100-m.p.h. fastball when it comes to intimidation. Former Angel pitcher Ryne Duren used to wipe his Coke- bottle-thick glasses and then throw a warm-up pitch halfway up the backstop.

"Hitters looked like they wanted to send the bat up to the plate by itself," said Buck Rodgers, who caught Duren in the 1960s.

Troy Percival doesn't go for the same theatrics, but he's squinting down at the catcher for a reason. He has astigmatism in both eyes and doesn't wear either his glasses or contacts when he pitches.

"I wear my contacts about three times a year," Percival said after pitching 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief during the Angels' 7-2 victory over Seattle at Anaheim Stadium Tuesday night. "I figure as long as I can see the ball coming back at me, I'm OK."

Most of the time, the ball comes back as a lob from the catcher. Percival certainly is no wild man--he has walked just 15 and has struck out 53 this season--and his earned-run average in his last 13 outings is 0.00. Only nine of the 38 runners he's inherited have scored and the Angels are 30-10 in games during which he has pitched.

Starting pitcher Brian Anderson was upset when he was removed from Tuesday night's game after six innings with the Angels leading, 3-2. But after a moment's reflection, he didn't feel too bad about his chances given the Angel bullpen's performance of late.

Little did he know that Percival, the Angels' third pitcher in the seventh inning, didn't think he "had much at all" while warming up in the bullpen.

"There just wasn't anything there," Percival said. "I had a pretty good curveball, but the fastball was a little dead. So I had to concentrate on keeping the ball down."

Given his performances of late, some have wondered if the Angels shouldn't have promoted Percival to closer instead of acquiring Lee Smith. Clearly, Percival covets the job, but he's in no hurry. And he insists he wouldn't be where he is today without Smith.

"I'm not going to get 500 saves and that's not my goal," he said. "If I could pitch behind Lee Smith forever, that would be fine with me. He may have struggled a little lately, but he's still the best and I learn something from him every day."

Tuesday night was a case in point. A year ago, Percival would have jogged from the bullpen to the mound telling himself he had to throw every pitch in triple digits on the radar gun.

"I would have tried to throw the ball as hard as I could, but I've grown up on the mound, thanks to guys like Lee Smith and Mark Langston and Bob Patterson," he said. "I think that's the biggest difference between this season and last season.

"Instead of trying to throw every pitch 100 miles per hour, I dropped my arm angle down a little, mixed in a lot more curveballs than I normally do, tried to hit the spots and keep them off balance."

He could have resorted to squinting at the catcher's signs and maybe uncorking a wild one, high and inside.

"It's no secret I can't see that well," he said, smiling. "I can't even read the names above these lockers. And I don't have the best control, you know."

That ought to keep them off balance.

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