CALIFORNIA

April 02, 1984

Angels pitcher Frank LaCorte, angry and frustrated with himself, fielded a ground ball near the mound, took several steps toward first base and then unloaded a fastball to his own startled first baseman, Daryl Sconiers. Sconiers couldn't handle the unnecessarily hard throw, and an inning that had already seemed interminable plodded on. When it was finally over, LaCorte had given up five runs. The throw to Sconiers, which greatly angered manager John McNamara, was indisputably LaCorte's best fastball of the inning, even if it traveled only 30 feet.

More should be expected from a reliever the Angels picked up as a free agent—and agreed to pay $900,000 for three years. Shoddy relief work was the main reason the Angels last year lost 36 games in which they were ahead or tied after six innings.

The LaCorte episode points up the Angels' dilemma. They're a powerful team of established, albeit aging, stars that is undermined by woeful pitching. The team does have three reliable starters in Tommy John, 40, and Ken Forsch and Geoff Zahn, both 37, but it could succumb to age at any minute. Mike Witt, a relative infant of 23, has shown flashes of promise in his 7-14, 4.91 1983 season. Jim Slaton, obtained from Milwaukee, could be useful in a variety of ways—spot starting, long relief, short relief—but after him the quality is largely unknown. Rookies Curt Kaufman, in short relief, and Steve Brown and Ron Romanick, as starters, may help, but for now it looks as if the Angels will simply have to concentrate on outscoring the opposition.

They have the guns to do that, particularly if Reggie Jackson can find the light at the end of his season-long 14-homer, 49-RBI slump of a year ago. Reg needs only 22 homers to join the "500 Club," and he wants in badly, so badly, in fact, that the thought of it probably hurt him in '83. Jackson says he can adjust to playing less, if that's what McNamara has in mind for him. "It's a little easier to adjust when you're coming off the type of season I had," he says wistfully. Jackson will be 38 in May, and Rod Carew is already that old. With the two of them and Doug DeCinces, Bobby Grich, Fred Lynn and Brian Downing, this team has power—and, in rookie Gary Pettis, at least, lots of speed. Lynn is moving to rightfield to free centerfield for Pettis, who stole 52 bases at Edmonton last season. The Angels will also count on rookie shortstop Dick Schofield because Rick Burleson has aggravated his 1982 rotator cuff injury. If the aging Angels are to win a World Series for their patient owner, Gene Autry, they'd better hurry. But they aren't likely to come very close this season if they don't improve their pitching.

The Angels were decimated by injuries—63 in all, with 15 sending players to the disabled list. Not included: The bruised ego suffered by Reggie Jackson, who hit. 194, or the bludgeoning sustained by the relievers, who were last in the majors with 23 saves. California had 23 fewer wins than in '82, the biggest drop-off in the majors.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)