It seems all pitcher Omar Olivares has proved this spring is that the Angels were wise to sign Jack McDowell in February.
Olivares was the leading candidate to win the fifth spot in the rotation until McDowell pushed him to the bullpen, but Olivares hardly distinguished himself in Cactus League play, closing with a 10.80 earned-run average.
The right-hander gave up five runs and five hits, including Jeff Blauser's three-run home run, in one inning Wednesday, as the Angels lost to the Chicago Cubs, 8-1, in their final Arizona exhibition before returning to Southern California for this weekend's Freeway Series.
Many sinkerball specialists have trouble getting their pitches to break in Arizona's thin air--reliever Mike James is another case in point--but Olivares, who has a guaranteed $1.15-million contract, can't pin all of his struggles on that theory.
"That's what they say, but I don't know," said Olivares, who gave up 37 hits and 22 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings this spring. "I should be able to throw the ball down anyway. I'm just not making pitches, I guess. I'm not hitting the right spots, and it's been like that all spring."
Manager Terry Collins' final cuts are expected Sunday, but history still favors Olivares. With Troy Percival, James, Mike Holtz, Rich DeLucia and Shigetoshi Hasegawa locks for the Angel bullpen and Olivares battling William VanLandingham for the final spot, Olivares has the edge.
Olivares, 30, is a veteran of six big league seasons with a 4.46 ERA, and 71 of his 214 appearances were in relief. VanLandingham has made only three relief appearances, and the Angels don't believe he's well-suited for the bullpen.
"We're not going to make any excuses. [Olivares] had a terrible spring," Collins said. "But a lot of guys do. What you have to do is look at what they've done over 162 games."
Wednesday's split-squad exhibition game between the Angels and the Lake Elsinore Storm, Anaheim's Class A minor league team, was canceled because the field at Lake Elsinore Diamond was deemed unfit to play.
Until Wednesday there had never been a game called or canceled because of weather or bad field conditions in the Diamond's four-year history, said Larry Ryan, Storm director of media relations.
The good news for the Angels has been the strong spring by reliever Troy Percival--0-0, with an 0.87 ERA and two saves in 10 games. In 10 1/3 innings he has given up only six hits and struck out 14.
But the best news is Percival continues to pitch pain-free. Last year a bad right shoulder forced Percival to the disabled list on April 9 (retroactive to April 7). Even though he went on to a 5-5, 3.46 ERA season with 27 saves, Percival said he never felt in sync.
"I spent most of [last] season throwing only one pitch--a fastball," he said. "Whenever I tried to throw the curve I could not get enough lift in my arm to throw it properly.
"This spring I've had feeling in my shoulder, my arm, everything. I can't say I'll get everybody out all year, but I'm feeling really good; I'm not afraid to cut loose. I already feel like I'm in midseason form."