Closer Troy Percival needed only nine pitches to retire the New York Yankees for his first save Wednesday night. Left-hander Mike Holtz gave up one hit in his first two relief appearances over 2 1/3 innings. Rich DeLucia had a superb spring, with an 0.71 earned-run average in 12 2/3 innings.
No wonder Mike James was feeling a bit left out. While his bullpen mates have excelled, James had a 9.82 spring ERA and was shaky in his first appearance, walking two and giving up a run in a mop-up inning against New York on Thursday night.
Then he threw a scoreless eighth inning against the Indians in Saturday's lost cause.
"Once I get my stuff going--and I think I'm just a click away from taking it from the bullpen to a game--we can definitely make some magic out there," James said of the Angel bullpen, expected to be a strength this season.
"And that will have a lot to do with the team's success. We come into the game at critical times, and if we do our jobs and get the ball to Troy with a lead, there's no telling how far we can go, because we're going to hit and we're going to get good starting pitching."
James, who relies on a fastball that dips and darts throughout the strike zone and a slider that can be nasty, struggled all spring, the combination of mechanical difficulties and Arizona's thin air causing his pitches to flatten out. His psyche took a beating too.
"Even though it's spring training, you don't want to get your brains beat out--that doesn't help your confidence," James said. "I didn't really freak out about it. The worst thing you can do is carry something like that into the season. But it will be good to have a couple of strong outings to reassure myself that I can still do it."
James sat out most of last July because of a strained elbow, an injury that contributed to his career-high 4.31 ERA in 58 innings, a major drop-off from his 2.67 ERA in 69 innings in 1996. Though his numbers this spring weren't impressive, James' arm is sound.
"My whole deal after last year was to be healthy, and I am," James said. "If my arm feels good, the rest will fall into place."
Good health--and good control--will also be important for Angel right-hander Jason Dickson, who will make his first start of the season today against the Indians.
Dickson was the Angels' most pleasant surprise of 1997, going 10-4 with a 3.69 ERA from April through July and making the American League All-Star team as a rookie. But elbow and shoulder problems hindered Dickson in the final two months, when he dipped to 3-5 with a 5.81 ERA.
"When his arm started bothering him, he changed his mechanics, and he started leaving balls over the plate that he didn't in the first half of the season," Manager Terry Collins said.
"His game is command, changing speeds, hitting spots, throwing different pitches in different counts, never letting the hitter know what he's going to do . . . that's what he has to do."
Dickson is not overpowering, but when he's spotting his fastball, curveball and slider around the strike zone and keeping hitters off-balance with his changeup, he can be very effective.
"He got away from his game a bit in the second half, but it helps that he doesn't have to rely on one particular pitch," Collins said. "As long as his command is good, he'll get people out."
ANGELS' JASON DICKSON (13-9, 4.29 ERA)
INDIANS' CHARLES NAGY (0-0, 17.36 ERA)
Edison Field, 1 p.m.
Radio--KRLA (1110), XPRS (1090).
* Update--Dickson was slowed earlier this spring because of biceps tendinitis, and his last start, in a Class-A exhibition game at Lake Elsinore on Tuesday night, was cut short after three innings because of rain. But Dickson went six innings in his final Cactus League start, so Collins is confident he'll have enough stamina to go six or seven innings today. Nagy was hit hard in the Indians' opener in Seattle on Tuesday, giving up nine runs on 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings, but thanks to Cleveland's come-from-behind, 10-9 victory, the right-hander escaped with a no-decision.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
1998 (4 dates): 134,284
1997 (4 dates: 84,771
1998 average: 33,571