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BASEBALL EXTRA | AROUND THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

Angels Giving Murray Time and Respect

May 18, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

Four consecutive victories against the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles--three of them coming from behind--represent an impressive week for the Angels, who continue to hang in despite pitching injuries and inconsistent offense.

Manager Terry Collins has had an obvious impact on aggressiveness and intensity. However, the Angels remain a team that would seem to require all cylinders running to compete with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers in the West, and the early lack of productivity from Eddie Murray, the 41-year-old designated hitter, represents a potential trouble spot.

Chili Davis averaged 25 homers and 94 runs batted in during the last four years as the Angel DH, but Murray was batting .219 with two homers and 10 RBIs through Friday. He had six hits in his last 41 at-bats and only one clutch RBI, as the Angels term it, for the season--a tying or go-ahead RBI.

"I'm not real concerned," Collins said. "This guy is a notoriously slow starter."

Not true. Murray had solid career averages of .273 for April and .281 for May before this year. However, he came to the Angels as an economical alternative amid rumblings from scouts that he no longer could get around on the fastball, particularly when batting left-handed. The Angels won't talk about it, but they were so concerned about Murray this spring that they almost traded for Rickey Henderson--which presumably would have led to Murray's release and Henderson's employment as the DH. Now, Murray seems to be reaching career milestones more often than he's reaching base.

It's a complex problem. Would a platoon of Jack Howell and Todd Greene, who has 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 23 games at Vancouver, be better than Murray? How do you release a future Hall of Famer, if it came to that?

"Any decision regarding Eddie Murray, good or bad, would be easy to make," General Manager Bill Bavasi said. "If the decision is that he's the everyday DH, great. Anything else, as it is with every player, is based on production. It's how you handle it that's not so easy. Tim Wallach had been a hell of a player. It was difficult telling him we couldn't use him any more. If it ever came to that with Eddie, it would be tough, but we're not there.

"I mean, I'd be lying if I said we weren't a little bit concerned and that we didn't take a look at each player's production on a regular basis. You've got a Hall of Famer who knows how to get started but is in a tough streak right now. He's not happy about it, but we're not panicking. Our focus is on getting him going, not anything else, but I'd never say never. There are no guarantees."

*

The Angels beat the Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday without having to face Scott Erickson (6-1, 2.90 earned-run average), Jimmy Key (7-0, 1.82) or Mike Mussina (5-1, 3.68), who put those nifty statistics on the line against the Mariners this weekend.

"I've got three aces," Manager Davey Johnson said in Anaheim. "Everybody has pitched well. On all good clubs, the competition within makes you better. In spring training, you have seven or eight guys competing for five spots. Now we've got three guys competing to be the best pitcher on this staff. That's outstanding. That's why Atlanta has been so successful."

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