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ANGELS SPRING TRAINING REPORT

Nevin May Be the Catch of Spring

Angels: With injury to Greene, former Fullerton standout now battling for a starting job behind plate.

March 18, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — Phil Nevin signed as a utility player, and when Todd Greene went down with a shoulder injury, Nevin suddenly became the team's backup catcher this spring.

But if the former Cal State Fullerton standout continues to progress as he has, he may open the season as the Angels' starting catcher.

"He's been the most impressive guy in camp in every phase of the game," Manager Terry Collins said before the Angels' 10-7 exhibition loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. "He's catching well and swinging the bat extremely well. He's fighting for a starting spot, as far as I'm concerned."

Nevin, a third baseman in college, learned to catch in Detroit's farm system two years ago, but he spent only about three months behind the plate in double-A ball that summer.

In Greene's absence, Nevin and Matt Walbeck have shared most of the catching duties this spring, and Nevin has shown marked improvement, having thrown out six of seven runners trying to steal.

Walbeck is the more experienced receiver and also has shown an excellent arm, having thrown out four of seven runners, but the way Nevin is hitting--.343, a team-leading four homers and 11 RBIs--and catching, he will start behind the plate three or four times a week, besides playing third.

"I've had four scouts from other organizations say to me, 'Wow, what's the deal with Nevin?' " Collins said. "And if he continues to swing the bat like this, we're going to have to get him in the lineup."

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Chuck Finley gave up six runs and 10 hits in six innings Tuesday, but reliever Mike James, who gave up four runs and six hits in the eighth inning, suffered the loss. Tim Salmon and Cecil Fielder hit consecutive homers, their first of the spring, in the third inning and Robert Eenhoorn hit a three-run homer in the eighth for the Angels, who have baseball's highest spring training batting average, .337.

Collins said reliever Pep Harris, suffering from biceps tendinitis, probably will open the season on the disabled list, so it appears the Angels will break camp with a bullpen of Troy Percival, James, Mike Holtz, Rich DeLucia, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and either Omar Olivares or William VanLandingham.

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