It's too early to panic, Mike Port insisted. "I don't view it as catastrophic at this point," the Angel general manager said.
Not yet, maybe. But the potential is most assuredly there.
Between the first and final outs of Friday's Palm Springs exhibition opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Angels saw their No. 1 starting pitcher grit his teeth through three innings of elbow pain and watched their only left-handed reliever collapse on the mound, clutching his back in agony.
John Candelaria and Gary Lucas were back in the rotation, hopeful of taking their first steps toward recovery after suffering arm and back injuries two weeks ago in Yuma.
Instead, they both took major steps backward.
Candelaria provided the first discouraging word of the day. Finally feeling well enough to test his tender left elbow against live competition, Candelaria was hit hard in the Angels' 5-4 victory--a triple, a double, four singles and two runs in three innings.
The reason: more complications in the elbow.
"There was pain, yes," Candelaria said softly with an ice pack wrapped around his elbow. "The arm felt great all week, and I didn't feel anything in warmups, either. But in the second inning, something happened."
Candelaria didn't remember the pitch he threw or the batter he faced. He just remembered the sensation.
"Sometimes I'd throw a fastball hard and the next time, there'd be nothing there," he said. "I'm concerned and I'm puzzled. X-rays haven't shown anything. It's different from any other injury that I've had before. Different because I don't know what it is."
Not so with Lucas. His back ailments go back to last spring, when a nerve problem forced him to miss the first two months of the season with the Montreal Expos.
Last week, Lucas figured that he had uncovered the solution--an injection of cortisone into the lower back, a remedy that did the trick in 1985.
This time, however, the shot wasn't enough.
On a 0-and-2 delivery to Jim Adduci in the top of the 10th inning, Lucas crumbled on the third-base side of the mound and was unable to get up. He had to be helped off the field by trainers Rick Smith and Ned Bergert.
After conferring with team doctor Lewis Yocum, Port tried to remain optimistic. "It's the same sort of aggravation he had last year," Port said. "Hopefully, Gary will also make it a repeat of last year, when he worked just three innings in the spring and went on to appear in 50 games the rest of the year."
Manager Gene Mauch's outlook wasn't so sunny.
"I'm as worried as hell about Lucas," Mauch said. "I'm worried because I don't understand backs.
"Candelaria, he'll find a way. In fact I don't think he'll miss his next turn. I've seen a lot of pitchers in my time with pain in their elbows during the spring."
Lucas could be different, Mauch said.
"I don't know if this is worse than what he had last year, but it looked bad," he said. "I didn't even want to get out there. I don't enjoy those things.
"It quieted down the clubhouse, that's for sure. Everybody knew that man was really hurting."
Yocum will examine the pitchers again today to try to determine the course of rehabilitation for both. The team doctor continues to get in more work than most of Mauch's pitchers.
"Congratulate Yocum on the great spring he's having," the manager said, breaking a thin smile. "He might make it to the next cut."
The Angels officially chalked up another free-agent mistake to experience Friday when they gave relief pitcher Frank LaCorte his unconditional release.
Signed to a three-year contract worth $1.1 million in December of 1983, LaCorte appeared in only 13 games as an Angel, producing a 1-2 record, a 7.06 earned-run average and no saves. Since June 13, 1984, he has been on the disabled list--missing the last 3 1/2 months of 1984 with tendinitis in his right triceps and all of 1985 with calcium deposits in his right shoulder.
LaCorte underwent surgery last May to remove the deposits, but his arm was not responding to rehabilitation. He failed to pitch one inning this spring.
Although LaCorte's 1986 salary is guaranteed, Port said it would have been pointless to keep the pitcher on the team's roster this year.
"It would've been a (rehabilitative) project of some significance," Port said. "Our best projection might have had him being ready to pitch by midsummer. That's at best. It might've gone well beyond that."
Clearing The Air: First, Reggie Jackson said the Angels want to phase him out and that Jackie Autry suggested to him that he should retire. Then, denials were issued by Jackie and Gene Autry. And now, today, the three will meet along with Mike Port and Jackson's agent, Gary Walker, to try to mend fences. "There have been a lot of things floating around in the press, which I believe have been just smoke and no fire," Port said. "Through all this, (Jackson and the Autrys) have not sat down and concluded, in unified fashion, what the last three weeks have all been about. They just want to get together and talk." Said Walker: "It's going to be an amicable meeting. I have a feeling both parties simply want to clear the air. The recent stories in the press would suggest some tension. Reggie will do anything to preserve his relationship with Gene Autry. We're not going into to it to make any demands. It will just be your basic rose-garden type of thing."
The Angels beat the Brewers in the 10th inning Friday on Dick Schofield's bases-loaded single. Schofield also had two doubles and another single in five at bats, raising his spring average to .367. The reason for Schofield's sudden offensive surge? "Gustavo Polidor," said Port. . . . Kirk McCaskill turned in the spring's longest stint by an Angel pitcher thus far--five innings. He allowed three hits and one run while striking out five. . . . Brian Downing hit his second home run of the spring. Doug DeCinces and Devon White both had triples.