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Angel Security Blanket : What a Relief Donnie Moore Has Been for the Team’s Late-Inning Problems

Times Staff Writer

In the beginning, there were Ryne Duren and Art Fowler and Bob Lee and Minnie Rojas.

Not since those early years have the Angels received late inning security of the type provided recently by Donnie Moore.

Security? Even Pinkerton’s is envious.

Going into tonight’s game with the Toronto Blue Jays, Moore leads the American League in earned-run average with 0.84 and is tied for second in saves with eight, one behind Oakland’s Jay Howell. He has not been scored upon in the 19 innings of his last 13 appearances.

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The Angels, with a two-game lead in the West Division, are 12-2 in games in which he has worked, 10-1 in one-run games and 19-12 overall.

Manager Gene Mauch has said that no relief pitcher in either league has pitched better. He has also said that he has never managed a more effective relief pitcher, and among those he has had were Mike Marshall, Dick Farrell, Jack Baldschun, Bill Campbell, Tom Johnson and Doug Corbett, who had two fine years for Mauch in Minnesota.

At 31, and having pitched for five major league teams and housed his family in 11 different cities during a 13-year professional career, Donnie Ray Moore dreams the blue-collar dream.

He is thinking about security. So is his agent, David Pinter of New York.

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“Donnie Moore is the Willie Hernandez of this year,” Pinter said Monday, referring to the veteran left-handed relief pitcher who was acquired by Detroit last year and emerged from the shadows of a modestly successful career to save 39 games for the eventual World Series champions.

Hernandez signed a four-year, $4.8-million contract during the off-season, even though a previous contract still had a year remaining.

Moore is signed to a one-year contract and will be eligible for free agency after the 1985 season. He will have considerable value on the open market, presuming he maintains his effectiveness.

Pinter presumes that the Angels recognize that. He presumes that they realize that the closer Moore gets to free agency, the higher his price is going to be.

He said he will soon be sending General Manager Mike Port a letter inquiring into the Angels’ interest in signing Moore to a multiyear contract.

The response he will get?

Favorable.

In a significant policy change, Port revealed Monday that he disagreed with predecessor Buzzie Bavasi’s firm refusal to negotiate a new contract before an old one expired.

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He said he has already been thinking about the value and the futures of potential free agents Moore, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Juan Beniquez, Geoff Zahn and Ken Forsch.

“How wise is it to wait until October to find out that a player is unsignable when you might have found out about it in July and made a move with him then?” Port asked.

“I haven’t approached anyone yet, but I plan to have talks well in advance of the midnight hour. There’s a delicate balance involved and I’ll have to have help from the players.

“I have to have concurrence that if I say no to a five-year, $5-million contract in July, they won’t get their dauber down, they’ll still go out and do their job.”

Moore has done his job, despite “disappointment and frustration” over the Angels’ refusal to give him a multiyear contract last January, when they selected him from more than 2,000 players as compensation for the loss of Fred Lynn, a Type A free agent.

He led Atlanta with 16 saves last season and filed for salary arbitration, submitting a $495,000 figure compared to the club’s $375,000, which represented a $245,000 raise from his $130,000 salary of last year.

Moore weighed arbitration but decided that he didn’t want to begin a new relationship with an often acrimonious process.

He ultimately signed with the Angels for the $375,000 figure. He can make another $50,000 via incentives.

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“I promised Donnie I’d get him out of Atlanta after the Braves signed (Bruce) Sutter because we knew that was the end of his saves,” Pinter said. “He was thrilled that the Angels took him because it meant he would be the stopper again.

“We talked to Port about a multiyear contract but didn’t get an offer. Mike said he was concerned about the knee surgery Donnie had in October and his ability to change leagues. He said he wanted to see him pitch first.

“I can understand that, but now he’s seen him, and the fact is that Donnie gets even better as it gets warmer.

“He’s had two top years now, so this isn’t a fluke.”

The priority, Pinter said, is the multiyear guarantee of a no-trade clause, providing Donnie and Tonya Moore with an opportunity to give their children a permanent residence. The children are Demetria, 13; Donnie II, 7, and Ronnie, 3.

“They’ve been like gypsies, like a circus family,” Pinter said. “They want roots. They want a home.”

Said Moore: “Everybody strives for security. It’s the one thing I hope to finally accomplish in this game.”

It may be coming.

Said Port: “Based on what he’s done so far, if Donnie Moore likes us as much as we like him, I’m very confident that we’ll work out something transcending 1985.”

The opportunity for financial and artistic success came to Moore comparatively late in his career.

A Texan from Lubbock, he signed with the Chicago Cubs after leading Ranger Junior College to the 1973 national championship.

Only once before the 1984 season with the Braves, did he spend a full summer in the majors. That was 1977, when he had a 9-7 record and four saves in 71 appearances with the Cubs, who used him as a setup man for Sutter. He made only 39 appearances in 1978 and spent part of the summer in Wichita.

The Cubs traded him to St. Louis for second baseman Mike Tyson after the 1979 season. The Cardinals, in turn, sold him conditionally to Milwaukee in September of 1981, took him back in October, then traded him to Atlanta for pitcher Dan Morogiello in February.

Moore spent parts of the ’82 and ’83 seasons in Richmond, and also might have opened the ’84 season there if Terry Forster hadn’t injured his shoulder in late March. Even so, Joe Torre, then Atlanta’s manager, had to argue with personnel director Hank Aaron for Moore’s retention.

All of that indicates how far Moore has come in the last year and a half. His 16 saves last year were four more than his previous major league total.

The long summers helped him tame a temper that earlier got him ejected four or five times a season. Then, with Atlanta, he encountered a manager who had faith in him and a pair of pitching coaches who made significant changes in his mental and physical approach.

Johnny Sain, the Braves’ minor league pitching instructor, refined Moore’s slider and forkball, convincing him that by employing the forkball as a change of pace complement to his fastball and slider, he would enhance the fastball’s speed and slider’s break.

“Now I have confidence that I can get outs with all three pitches,” Moore said.

Bob Gibson, then the Braves’ pitching coach, worked with Moore’s mental toughness, teaching him to pitch away from right-handed hitters, to move the ball in and out.

“Now I can work the outside corner at will,” Moore said. “I always thought you had to keep the ball in on right-handed hitters and I’d get hurt giving up a lot of chinkers, or I wouldn’t get it in far enough and I’d give up a home run.”

Gibson was fired at the end of last season. So was Torre, now the analyst on Angel telecasts. Torre said Gibson was constantly on Moore about a tendency to leave pitches in the center of the plate. He said Moore’s development was a tribute to Gibson.

“Donnie was a power pitcher who learned the value of changing speeds, moving the ball around, using the entire plate,” Torre said. “He doesn’t have the trick pitch of Sutter or the speed of (Goose) Gossage, but he shuts the door by challenging hitters, which is what you want in a relief pitcher. He doesn’t beat himself by nibbling.

“He’s also something of an old-schooler in that he never makes an excuse when he gets knocked around. He takes the ball every time it’s offered, which is the biggest compliment I can give him.”

Torre recommended Moore to Mauch when Mauch called before the compensation draft. The Braves had signed Sutter and were forced to include seven players with no-trade clauses among the 24 they could protect from compensation. Among the seven were relief pitchers Sutter, Garber and Forster, and starter-reliever Rick Camp.

Moore was vulnerable.

“I’d had a good year; I’d done the job,” he said. “I didn’t expect them to sign Sutter.

“Once they did, and I then found out they had to protect the no-trades, I knew something had to give, someone had to go.

“Now they keep saying that they hated to have it happen. What did they expect?”

The Angels, of course, were desperate for a late stopper. They didn’t have eight saves last year until June, and finished with only 26. Moore’s name on the draft list eliminated the immediate need for a trade. They could get him for a phone call. They did not have to package players.

“Donnie Moore’s name jumped out at us,” Mauch said. “The man saves 16 games in 19 chances and gives up only three home runs in Atlanta Stadium. That’s pitching.”

There is an aura of confidence to the 6-1, 180-pound Moore, but he is devoid of the eccentricities or physical characteristics often associated with relief pitchers.

He said he savors the high-wire challenge of late relief and would probably have asked to be traded if Atlanta had kept him as a setup man for Sutter again.

He said, however, that he is not attempting to show the Braves they made a mistake. Nor is he preoccupied with thoughts of possible free agency. He said the shadows are still fine.

“I don’t care that much about talking,” he said, alluding to interviews. “I do it for you guys (reporters), not me. I don’t need the spotlight. I just want to be lost in the shuffle.”

Moore is averaging about 1 innings an appearance. His pace projects to a realistic 73 appearances and 111 innings. Hernandez made 80 appearances and threw 140 innings last year. Dan Quisenberry of Kansas City made 72 appearances and threw 129 innings. Moore pitched 103 innings when he made his 71 appearances in ’78.

Can he go 70 to 80 again?

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” he said. “It depends on how much rest I get and how many innings are involved. I don’t think I can do it pitching two or three innings a time, and I don’t know who else can, either.

“I’ve never had any arm trouble and I don’t want to start now. I’m not going to blow my arm out by going out there if I’m not right. I won’t even go to the bullpen on the chance that I might feel better later.

“I can’t help the club by pitching when I need rest. I’ll tell ‘em before the game that I need a day, and that’ll have to be it.”

Maybe. Moore told the Angels that before a game in Minnesota and was still used.

“We have to be careful,” pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said. “Donnie wants the ball. He won’t refuse it. We have to remember that it’s a 162-game season.”


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