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Velarde Has Energy for Stretch Run

Baseball: Veteran second baseman, no longer bothered by a painful elbow injury, provides a quick lift for struggling Angels with his return to lineup.

August 04, 1998|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The remnants of a front that had dumped more than five inches of rain on the Kansas City area was unleashing a final cloudburst on a deserted Kauffman Stadium last month. Well, almost deserted.

A lone figure was running through the slanting rain along the warning track in the outfield, back and forth, foul pole to foul pole.

Randy Velarde would never let a little downpour get in the way of a workout.

But why would Velarde, who had been able to play baseball for a grand total of two days in two years because of a surgically reconstructed right elbow, spend much of the other 700 or so working diligently to be ready for the elusive time when he could throw a ball without wincing?

Velarde never quit believing a night like Monday night--when he returned to the Angels' starting lineup again--would come. Well, almost never.

There was that short dark period in May after he suffered a strained right forearm during his two-day return from the disabled list.

"When it happened the last time, I wrote myself off," he said. "That's something I never do, but that's how excruciating the pain was. I thought my career was over."

But soon the indefatigable Velarde, who fought his way back from one setback in spring training, was sweating through yet another rehabilitation regimen and earning a "reprieve that I want to take advantage of."

Few seize an opportunity like Randy Velarde. He had a double, a pair of singles, an RBI and a run scored in his first three at-bats as the Angels routed Cleveland, 11-4, Monday night.

"It's hard to find the words to describe how great this feels," he said after the game. "There's no substitute for the adrenaline rush you get when you're behind the battle lines with the guys."

In his previous two games this season, Velarde had two home runs and was three for five against the White Sox in May.

"It's great to have him back in the lineup," General Manager Bill Bavasi said. "I was in Chicago when he came back the first time and he certainly had a tremendous impact there. We're hoping he'll have that impact again, this time for an extended period of time."

After Friday night's non-waiver trading deadline came and went without a deal for the Angels, a number of teammates, coaches and front-office officials said getting Velarde back for the stretch run was as good as any trade.

If his batting average remains at .600--or even half that--nobody will argue. But Velarde is not quite ready to be elevated to savior status just yet.

"I don't think I'm going to be a secret ingredient," he said. "You're talking about a guy who has been caged up for a year and a half. So call it a spark or whatever, but I'm bringing an energy to this team and I hope they feed off it.

"Maybe that will kick-start this thing and we'll get it going in a different direction."

And if his teammates are in need of a little stress reduction, Velarde is ready to bear the heat of August's drive for the American League West title.

"These guys have been out there playing all year and they're tired," he said. "I want all the fingers pointed at me. I'm a fresh body. I can handle it."

When you've faced the end of your career and clawed your way back, a little pennant-race pressure is something to savor. . . .especially if there's no ache in your elbow.

"They've done all the tests on it and I've passed them all," Velarde said. "Last time, there was some pain and I just tried to play through it. This time, there's no pain. I wasn't going to come back a third time unless I was ready."

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