You could say Mike Witt finished strong last year. On the last day of the season, he pitched a perfect game against the Texas Rangers, winning 1-0. It was the first perfecto in Angels history and the first of nine innings in the major leagues since Cleveland's Len Barker zeroed in on the Blue Jays in May of '81. Now all Witt has to do is live down that extraordinary effort and live up to the Angels' sky-high expectations of him. "We're expecting big things out of this young man," says pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, echoing the sentiments of new general manager Mike Port and new manager Gene Mauch. Witt's 15 wins led the staff a year ago, and since he's only 24 the Angels can envision a 20-win season from him. Witt says he only wants to get better and to banish forever from his consciousness that fine day last fall. "I've got to get that out of my mind," he says. "It can be a handicap. I've just got to pitch as well as I can." Witt is the anchor on an Angels staff that runs from very young—himself, Ron Romanick, 24, and Pat Clements, 23—to very old—Geoff Zahn, 38, Ken Forsch, 38, and Tommy John, 41.
In the field, the Angels are just plain old, except for the 22-year-old Dick Schofield and the 26-year-old Gary Pettis. Pettis is one of the most spectacular centerfielders in the game, but he batted only .227 and struck out 25 more times than he hit safely (115 to 90). The Angels sent him to the old maestro of hitting, Harry (The Hat) Walker, over the winter for private instruction on bunting and slapping the ball to the opposite field. Mauch would love to have Pettis, who stole 48 bases last year, leading off, but only if he can learn to get on base. The differential between offense and defense is even more pronounced with Schofield, who had the highest fielding percentage (.982) of all regular American League shortstops and the lowest batting average (.193). If Mauch can wheedle offense out of Pettis, Schofield and catcher Bob Boone (.202 in '84), he'll achieve some continuity in his batting order.
"Let's see," speculated Mauch one day this spring. "I've got one guy, Brian Downing, who doesn't enjoy batting leadoff. But he had his best year batting there in '82. Hit 28 home runs, six of them leading off a game, and drove in 84 runs. He likes hitting with men on base, but after the first inning, who the hell cares? You can use Rod Carew hitting first, second or third, and it'll make sense. Reggie [Jackson] can hit third, fourth or fifth. And with [Doug] DeCinces you can't go wrong no matter where you put him. Bobby Grich has had great games batting second, but he prefers being way down in the lineup. I used 100 different batting orders in '82. I might do the same thing this year. Good hitters don't care where they hit."
They do care where they play, though. After one dreadful season (.194) and one mediocre one (.223) as a designated hitter, this spring Jackson was sent back to rightfield by Mauch. "All I know is I saw him have some great seasons as a rightfielder and some weak ones as a DH." says Mauch. Playing right, Jackson had a superb spring under Mauch's appraising gaze. "The man is tough," Reggie said of his manager after one spring workout. "You know what I'm hitting now? Five hundred even. And you know what he told me? He said, 'I want you to do some more running.' I said, 'Sure.' Then he said, 'And by the way, I've liked only two of your at bats.' Now that's tough." So might the season be for a team with such an unlikely mixture of talent.
April 15, 1985