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Witt Walks Six and Takes Another Walk Himself as Yankees Beat Angels, 5-2

Times Staff Writer

The Angels have finished the first quarter of their 1988 season, which means Mike Witt, the highest-paid pitcher in the team’s history at $1.4 million a year, has already received paychecks totaling $350,000.

The Angels have one victory and his 5.48 earned-run average to show for it.

Monday night, for the second time in as many starts, Witt was wild and failed to pitch more than 6 innings, this time walking six batters and blowing a two-run lead to the New York Yankees during a 5-2 Angel loss before a crowd of 30,541 at Anaheim Stadium.

Witt is 1-6 after 10 starts and 2-12 over his last 19 starts, dating back to Aug. 22. That was before the Angels agreed to shell out $2.8 million over two years to keep Witt in Anaheim, making him the most expensive Angel since Fred Lynn.

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Witt last won a game on April 15, a 5-3 victory at Seattle, and has since gone 0-5 with 2 no-decisions. The Angels lost those two games, too.

And in his last start, an 8-7 defeat by Baltimore, Witt surrendered 8 runs on 6 hits and a career-high 8 walks (2 intentional) in 6 innings.

Monday night, Witt lasted 6 innings again, just long enough to turn a 2-0 advantage into a 4-2 deficit, yielding 2 runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.

And look at who did the damage:

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--Rafael Santana, the .211-hitting shortstop who bats ninth in the Yankee lineup, walked and scored in the fifth inning before singling home another run in the sixth.

--Mike Pagliarulo, ending an 0-for-17 spell, singled in the sixth and moved to third on a double by Joel Skinner, New York’s .114-hitting catcher. Pagliarulo scored on Santana’s single, and Skinner came home on a ground-out by Rickey Henderson.

Witt’s final line: 6 innings, 7 hits, 4 earned runs, 6 walks, 1 strikeout. That’s right, 1 strikeout.

“You would like to think that the real Mike Witt does not walk eight in his last start and six in this one while striking out one,” Angel General Manager Mike Port said. “If anything, you’d expect the reverse.

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“People have asked me if there’s anything physical (that’s wrong) with Mike, and I have to tell them no. Mike is a veteran player and he knows the proper balance, when something is bothering him and he should come out.

“I think he’s all right physically, just very enigmatic. He threw one pitch tonight to Jack Clark, one fastball on the inside part of the plate, that you simply don’t see a man throw if something’s physically wrong with him. Early on tonight, that was the Mike Witt we’ve come to expect.”

The Angels used to expect Witt to finish out some victories, which is why Port upped the ante last winter when Witt, then a free agent, was actively courted by the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics. The investment, thus far, has gone awry, but Port still defends it.

“In hindsight, when it came to keeping Mike Witt here last winter . . . I would not have done anything differently,” Port said. “I would try to sign Mike Witt again, just as we did then, because there were several other clubs who held Mike in the same high estimation.

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“We were in a race for his services with the Yankees and Oakland. There was quick and fast competition for his services. We did what we did . . . and it’s not like Mike Witt didn’t prepare himself for this season. What was he in spring training, 5-0? Then, he has some (ragged) early outings, then he pitches well for two outings, then he walks eight and walks six in these last two starts.

“It’s not as though there’s no ability there. Look at how he handled New York in the early innings. With no ability, I’d assume you wouldn’t be able to do that against the New York Yankees.”

Witt had showered, dressed and left the clubhouse by the time reporters reached the locker room, so Angel Manager Cookie Rojas had to field some questions about his erstwhile No. 1 starting pitcher.

Rojas considered this defeat, as well as Witt’s other five, and placed most of the blame on the Angel offense.

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“Day in and day out, all our pitchers don’t get enough runs to work with,” Rojas said. “Our pitchers can never say, ‘Here, we’ve got five or six runs,’ and they can pace themselves. No, they’re pitching 2-1, 2-0, 1-0 ballgames, busting their butts for six, seven innings, and then they run out of gas.

“And against a big club like the Yankees, that’s tough. Everybody they have can hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

The Angels managed just two runs off New York pitchers Rich Dotson, Cecilio Guante (3-2) and Dave Righetti, who earned his eighth save. And they went scoreless after the fourth inning.

The Angels gave Witt an early 2-0 lead, due in part to Brian Downing’s sudden mastery of Yankee pitching. Taking a .243 career batting average against New York into this season, Downing has now faced the Yankees four times in 1988--and hit home runs in all four games.

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And this is the same Downing who just 12 days ago stood at .179 with 1 home run and 6 RBIs.

The Angels made it 2-0 in the fourth inning with an assist from Skinner. Johnny Ray opened the inning with a swinging bunt that Skinner fielded and then threw away, enabling Ray to reach second base. One out later, Ray scored on a single by Jack Howell.

After that, Witt went out to pitch the fifth inning--and it all fell apart, just as it has so many other times this season. And all Port can do is keep handing out paychecks and hoping, sooner more than later, that last winter’s costly decision does pay off.

Angel Notes

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Mark McLemore’s sore right elbow, which kept him out of his second consecutive start, was examined by Angel team physician Dr. Lewis Yocum Monday afternoon. Initial X-rays were negative, but Yocum scheduled another battery of tests today--an EMG (electromyogram, to determine nerve damage) and a tomogram (specialized bone X-ray). The Angels are concerned because the condition has persisted since the middle of last season. McLemore eventually appeared in Monday’s game, pinch-hitting for Junior Noboa in the sixth inning and replacing him in the field in the seventh.

Yocum also examined pitcher Ray Krawczyk for a left sciatic (hamstring) nerve problem. Krawczyk strained the hamstring while covering first base May 1 in Toronto and has since made five appearances on it, including his first major league start Saturday in Boston. Krawczyk said his leg “felt improved,” but more tests are tentatively scheduled for today.


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