Mark Langston, the Angels' most effective starting pitcher this season, will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to repair torn knee cartilage and will be out for six to eight weeks, a potentially huge blow to the team's pennant hopes.
"I believed going into the season," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said, "that whatever [American League West] team could avoid a major injury to a starting pitcher would have the edge."
Advantage Texas and Seattle. Instead of Langston, a 13-year veteran who was 2-1 with a 3.65 earned-run average, the Angels will now give the ball every fifth day to journeyman knuckleballer Dennis Springer, who has a 10.38 ERA in four Angel appearances this season.
The probable Angel rotation for the next month or two? Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott, Jason Grimsley, Scott Sanderson and Springer.
"It's going to be tough, but we have to pull together and find a way to get through this," Finley said. "You go through the course of a season, and the one thing that can kill a team is injuries.
"It's strange, because Mark is one of those guys who usually goes through a season without any injuries. Then you hear the way this happened, and it's like, 'Wow.' "
Langston's right knee bothered him a bit in spring training, but the left-hander was hardly slowed in April--he went at least seven innings in each of his six starts, including a 7 1/3-inning, two-hit performance against Milwaukee April 3.
But as he ran a warmup sprint before Sunday's game against Minnesota, Langston's knee gave out, and he had to be scratched. An MRI Monday showed a slight tear in the medial meniscus cartilage, and Dr. Lewis Yocum determined Tuesday that Langston will need surgery.
"I've never had knee problems my whole life--I've never even iced my knee until spring training this year," Langston said. "But this isn't something that's going to just disappear, so we need to take care of it quickly."
Langston, who has been on the disabled list only twice--for elbow injuries in 1994 and '85--was shocked when he was told he'd be out for about two months. He hoped to be sidelined for only two or three weeks.
But when Langston had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow in 1994 and was told he'd be out six to eight weeks, he was activated after five weeks.
"I can't stand being out--it pushes me to work incredibly hard," Langston said. "This is probably the longest I'll have ever been on the disabled list, but I look at the short end of it. I'm going to do what it takes to get back as quickly as I can."
In addition to putting Langston on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, the Angels optioned starting pitcher Phil Leftwich to triple-A Vancouver.
Langston and Leftwich were replaced by relievers Todd Frohwirth and Ben VanRyn, but both are expected to be sent back to Vancouver when Springer is activated for Friday night's game against Cleveland and Sanderson, who has been on the disabled list because of a strained right groin, is activated for Saturday night's game against the Indians.
Manager Marcel Lachemann opted for the relievers because he needed some short-term depth in a bullpen that accounted for 14 of the 18 innings pitched Sunday and Monday night.
Shawn Boskie, demoted from the rotation to the bullpen on April 18, was considered for Langston's spot, but the right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four relief appearances, and Lachemann didn't want to remove him from the bullpen.
Lachemann, however, couldn't say whether Springer would be the long-term answer to the team's starting pitching problems. The Angels, in trade talks regarding reliever Lee Smith, hope to acquire a starting pitcher.
"I don't even know what's going to happen after next week," Lachemann said. "But I guess we have to move on. This is part of baseball. It happens everywhere."
It happened recently in Seattle, where Mariner ace Randy Johnson missed his last start because of nerve inflammation in his lower back, a fact that makes you wonder if these two left-handers are linked in some strange way.
Langston was traded by Seattle to Montreal for Johnson and two other players in 1989; Langston faced Johnson in the one-game playoff to determine the AL West champion last October, and now the two pitchers got hurt almost simultaneously.
"But he's coming back this week, isn't he?" Langston said of Johnson, who is expected to pitch this weekend. "I'd rather be in his shoes."
* ROYALS TOP ANGELS
Vitiello's two-run homer in the eighth inning beats Abbott. C5