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Angels : Rookie Left-Hander Puts Gleam in Mauch’s Eye

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

It wouldn’t have taken much to make Angel rookie Frank DiMichele happy this spring. Maybe they’d get his name right--despite appearances, the proper pronunciation is DiMichael --and maybe no one would mistake him for Donnie Moore.

The latter actually happened last summer, which takes some doing. DiMichele is white, 23 and left-handed. Moore is not.

“Donnie had come down to Palm Springs last year to do a little (rehabilitative) work,” said DiMichele, then a starting pitcher with the Class-A Palm Springs Angels, “and this reporter from one of the local papers comes up to me and says, ‘Donnie, can I ask you a few questions about your comeback?’ ”

DiMichele grins the same grin he did back then.

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“Maybe it was the curly hair,” he says.

No one here at Gene Autry Park has confused DiMichele with Moore, although it has become Angel Manager Gene Mauch’s fanciful wish that both are members of the same bullpen come opening day. Desperately seeking left-handed relief, Mauch cast an eye on DiMichele early in camp and has kept him under scrutiny ever since.

“If DiMichele sneaks in there, what’d be wrong with that?” Mauch said after his first few viewings. “I don’t know what’s he’s going to do, but he’s definitely got my attention.”

Sunday, DiMichele again drew Mauch’s stare as he pitched 15 minutes worth of batting practice to a group including Chili Davis, Brian Downing and 1987 No. 1 draft choice John Orton. After watching Davis take an almost unhittable slider for a strike, Mauch began clapping. Then he walked out to the mound and joined DiMichele behind the pitcher’s screen, closely inspecting the rest of DiMichele’s workout.

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“That’s big-league stuff,” Mauch proclaimed afterward. “I don’t know if it’s going to get big-league hitters out yet, but I’m going to find out. I’ve got him scheduled to pitch in the first exhibition game we play (Friday against the San Diego Padres). That’s how anxious I am to see him.”

DiMichele, a mere 13-24 with a 4.59 earned-run average in three minor-league seasons, is understandably taken aback by his sudden prominence in camp.

“This is all kind of weird,” he says. “At the beginning of spring training last year, I didn’t think I’d ever be this close to the majors. This is fantastic.”

DiMichele admits that the good fortune of being born left-handed is now working heavily in his favor.

“Just look at the spring training roster,” he said. “There’s about 150 right-handers and 2 left-handers. It’s an advantage.”

But, since undergoing some offseason tinkering during the 1987 Arizona Instructional League, DiMichele also insists he’s become a different pitcher.

“This is not a surprise to me,” he says. “This is like there’s a new Frank DiMichele. My confidence level is so high, it’s over my head.

“Everything sort of clicked into place during the Instructional League. (Angel bullpen coach) Joe Coleman changed the angle of my arm on my delivery and helped me keep the ball down. I used to throw straight over the top and I had a big old leg kick. Joe shortened my kick and started me throwing at three-quarters (trajectory). My fastball, which used to come in straight and flat, started moving all over the place.”

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Last season at Palm Springs, DiMichele finished 6-9 with a 4.79 ERA, splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Then during the Instructional League, with a new delivery and the new assignment of short reliever, DiMichele lowered that ERA to 2.30 while striking out 30 batters in 22 innings.

Such a showing prompted the Angels to promote DiMichele to their 40-man roster, thus assuring his invitation to the major league training camp.

“I knew then that they believed in me,” DiMichele said.

Angel Notes

Unavailable for Comment: Relief pitcher DeWayne Buice was a no-show at Sunday’s workout after undergoing minor oral surgery for the removal of some discolored tissue inside his lower lip, apparently caused by the use of smokeless tobacco. Buice showed up briefly at the Angels’ clubhouse, holding an ice pack to his jaw, but soon retreated back to his hotel room. “He’s messed up,” said pitcher Willie Fraser, who also underwent a similar biopsy on Saturday. “They took a big chunk out of his lip, right where he dips (tobacco). The doctors told him he’s going to have to cut out the tobacco.” And that, according to those who play with Buice, could be asking a lot. Said pitcher Kirk McCaskill: “He does it all--smoking, chewing, dipping. If’s it’s tobacco, it’s Buice. That’s why we affectionately call him ‘Mr. T’ around here.” Fraser, too, was hurting but not enough to keep him out of uniform.

Dan Petry was walking around the clubhouse with minimal discomfort Sunday, which marked a major improvement in the condition of his lower back. Today, Petry will undergo a scan to determine if he has suffered any disk damage. “The doctors say you can tell a lot after 48 hours, and it’s been 48 hours and I’m feeling much better,” Petry said. “So it’s unlikely that there’s any damage. The (scan) is just to ease everybody’s mind. After that, they’ll be able to schedule a pitching program for me.” After spending three days holed up in his hotel room, Petry applauds that idea. “The sooner the better,” he said. “This has been rather boring. It’s a good thing the Olympics have been on TV, or it could’ve been really bad.” . . . Wally Joyner took his first session of batting practice and in one 18-pitch round, drilled 10 line drives to various corners of the outfield.


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