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ANGEL REPORT

They Hope They're Not Stiffed by Canseco

March 15, 2001|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jose Canseco was pacing the Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse before Wednesday's Cactus League game against Colorado, looking a little antsy. The designated hitter, sidelined for four days because of stiffness in his lower back, was in the lineup and couldn't wait for the game to begin.

"Too much down time," he said.

Funny, the Angels are starting to think the same thing about Canseco.

Somewhere between lunch and the 1 p.m. game--apparently running pregame wind sprints--Canseco's right hamstring tightened up, and he asked out of the lineup, extending his absence to five days and straining the patience of Manager Mike Scioscia.

"Sore hamstrings and stiff backs are not out of the ordinary for spring training--the deeper issue is the overall health of Jose, and we're not getting a read on that," Scioscia said after a 6-5 exhibition victory over the Rockies. "Jose is a big part of the puzzle. We need to see where he fits in."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Canseco lost 20 pounds over the winter and did not lift a weight, concentrating on stretching and agility exercises in hopes of avoiding the back and leg injuries that sent him to the disabled list seven times in the last six years.

Though Canseco has downplayed his ailments, saying they are nothing more than the usual spring training soreness, he has done little to dispel his reputation as an injury-prone slugger.

He has played in only six exhibition games, with three hits and six strikeouts in 16 at-bats. The Angels are counting on Canseco, who has 446 career home runs, to be their starting DH, but they're beginning to wonder if they can rely on him.

"You're always looking at different scenarios, you always want to be prepared," Scioscia said. "If Jose's body won't let him do it, we'll have to go to Plan B."

That would probably be either Scott Spiezio or a combination of players such as Spiezio, Orlando Palmeiro and possibly Kimera Bartee or Larry Barnes, depending on how Barnes and Spiezio finish in the battle for the first-base job with Wally Joyner.

But none of those four can match the power potential of Canseco, whose incentive-laced contract includes a $200,000 base salary and the chance to make an additional $4.95 million if he makes 600 plate appearances.

"There's still time to get him enough at-bats to get ready for the season," Scioscia said. "I'm not concerned in the short term, but in the long term, I'm concerned. If he's healthy, he'll produce, but he hasn't been able to get out there enough this spring to see where he is."

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Right fielder Tim Salmon, suffering from a slight abdominal strain, sat out his fourth consecutive game Wednesday. He is expected to take batting practice today and could return by Friday.

Salmon is a notoriously slow starter, with a .217 career April batting average in eight seasons, so it's important he gets an abundance of at-bats in spring training.

When he returns, Salmon probably will go to the Angels' minor league camp in Mesa, Ariz., a few times, so he can get 12-15 at-bats a day in double-A and triple-A exhibitions. Salmon has done this in the past, shuttling back and forth between fields so he can lead off every inning of two games.

"It's fun because you just get to hit, and if you make an out, you don't have to think about it for 45 minutes," he said. "I always feel bad taking at-bats away from the kids, but it's something I have to do. It gets the juices flowing to get at-bats in game situations."

*

Jarrod Washburn gave up two runs--both on Adam Melhuse's home run--on four hits in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, striking out four and walking three. Scioscia pulled the left-hander in the fourth inning because he had reached his 70-pitch limit. . . . Closer Troy Percival had his first rocky outing of the spring, giving up two runs on three hits in one inning, and lefty Mike Holtz was tagged for a run on three hits in one inning.

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