Spring Training / Angels : Zahn Will Go as Far as Left Knee Takes Him

Times Staff Writer

Geoff Zahn's pitching success hinges on his renowned variety of off-speed stuff. Hitters moan and call it junk, which is also what his left knee resembles.

Zahn undergone six operations on the knee, five of them arthroscopic and the latest for removal of cartilage last Aug. 11. Only a third of the original cartilage remains. There is constant fraying, presenting a continuous risk that another section will tear off, forcing a seventh operation or ending Zahn's career.

"I know it can happen at any time, but I don't think about it when I go out to pitch," Zahn said Tuesday after he had pitched four shutout innings in the Angels' 8-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

"I have to accept it and try to keep it as strong as possible.

"I feel that I've pitched the best baseball of my career over the last three years, and there's a certain satisfaction in knowing I can come back from adversity. But I also feel that when it gets to the point that my knee is going out on me two or three times a year, it will be time to get out.

"There might be some frustration if I'm still at a point where I can pitch, but I want to be able to walk when I get to be 48 or 50."

Now 38, Zahn had the American League's fifth-best earned-run-average last year and tied Kansas City's Bud Black for the best by a left-hander at 3.12.

He was 9-4 during the first half of the season, a period he considers the most consistent of his career, and 13-10 overall. That was remarkable considering that a muscle pull in his right leg forced him to open the season on the disabled list, a muscle pull in his left leg took him out of the rotation for 16 days in midsummer, and the August surgery put him out of action until Sept. 1.

Zahn rebounded impressively from each injury and has now pitched seven exhibition innings without allowing a run. Last year, he pitched only two spring innings before making his first start at Oakland April 12.

"I wouldn't want the owners getting the idea that we can get away with only a week of training," Zahn said with a smile, alluding to his limited preparation last spring.

"I was probably lucky to be as effective as I was."

Zahn has always been effective in April. He has a 24-5 record for the month. He is preparing to enhance it by strengthening the knee through the use of weights, an exercise bike and a machine that simulates cross-country skiing. He also expects to pitch 25 to 30 exhibition innings to hone his sharpness.

Tommy John, who missed a Sunday appearance against San Diego because of lower back strain, pitched five innings of a B-team game with the Cubs, allowing three runs on five hits while getting 13 of the 15 outs on grounders.

Addressing his uncertain status again, John said:

"If the Angels think they can win they'll probably keep me. If they don't they'll probably go with the kids."

The Houston Astros, looking for a starting pitcher and prepared, perhaps, to trade either of two left-handed relievers--Frank DiPino or Joe Sambito--contacted Angel General Manager Mike Port Tuesday.

Port said that the conversation dealt in generalities and that no names were mentioned. He said he had also had a routine talk with Toronto.

Angel Notes The Angels said that Dr. Gerald Rozansky of Centinela Hospital Medical Center's Life Start program began an evaluation Tuesday of Daryl Sconiers' "substance problem." They said that Dr. Rozansky would continue the evaluation today. . . . Frank LaCorte continued to experience tightness behind his right shoulder. He's on a day-to-day basis. . . . Doug Corbett followed Geoff Zahn with three shutout innings. . . . Pat Clements strengthened his bid to become the bullpen left-hander by pitching a flawless ninth. . . . "I'd Divorce My Hubby for a Cubbie" sweatshirts are the latest example of Cubmania.

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