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His Chances Don’t Come Too Often, but Eppard Makes Most of Them

Times Staff Writer

If you’re Jim Eppard these days, you’re wondering what a guy has to do to earn consideration for a starting job on the second-worst team in the American League.

Wednesday evening at Anaheim Stadium, Eppard did what he could in the Angels’ 6-3 loss to the Texas Rangers. Making a rare appearance in the starting lineup as the designated hitter, Eppard contributed a pair of singles and a run batted in. Ruthian it wasn’t, but Eppard didn’t mind. It was a chance to play.

“Two starts, two hits (each time),” Eppard said. “Now if I can mix in a few pinch-hits and do my job there. . .”

That’s all Eppard wants: a major league job, any job. Starting would be nice, but for the time being, part-time work is fine.

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“I know my role here,” he said. “I’m the left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench. My job here is to stay ready.”

Eppard arrived at the ballpark Wednesday ready to do what he usually does, which is sit. But then he glanced at the batting practice list and found a surprise: playing time.

“I came in, looked for my name where it usually is, and it wasn’t there. So I figured I was playing,” he said.

As opposed to his regular spot in the batting practice order. “With the extras,” he said.

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Eppard knows about extras. Already he has spent six full seasons in the minor leagues, which usually is a hint if there ever was one. As a general rule of thumb, good things rarely come to those who wait and wait and wait in the minors.

But Eppard, now 28, is different that way. Rather than hang on, seeing America and Canada by team bus and the occasional chartered plane, Eppard is making a name for himself. Problem is, it’s in the Pacific Coast League.

In 1987, his first season with the Angels’ triple-A team in Edmonton, Eppard won the league batting title with a .341 average and led the team in RBIs, despite just three homers. For this, the Angels added him to their expanded roster for the final month of the failed season, only to give him nine at-bats.

Eppard stopped by the Angels’ spring training camp this year long enough to see the writing on the clubhouse wall, which, in big Dick-and-Jane letters, could have read: No Jobs Available .

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So Eppard was sent packing to Edmonton again, and all because he happens to play first base and dabble in designated hitting. As luck would have it, two of only several positions considered untouchable in the struggling Angel lineup.

First base is where Wally Joyner resides on an almost daily basis. To unseat the popular Joyner, whose name evokes visions of that sweet swing, would require a court order. No, first base most likely won’t be available anytime soon.

“That’s a difficult situation, given the fellow we have otherwise,” General Manager Mike Port said.

As for designated hitter, forget it, at least for now. Brian Downing owns that place in the batting order. Nor is he fond of sharing it.

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Which leaves Eppard caught between a rock and a hard place, like the Angel bench.

“Where do I play him?” Manager Cookie Rojas said.

Good question, and Rojas has no ready answers. Downing isn’t one for wanting games off; neither is Joyner. So Rojas squeezes Eppard in the lineup when he can.

“He drove in a run, had two hits . . . he did his job,” Rojas said. “I can’t have him on the bench all the time. I’ve got to keep him sharp.”

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Eppard understands the dilemma. He also hears the sound of his baseball clock ticking away. At 28, it sounds louder every day.

“It’s clicking,” he said. “But I can only go out there and do my best.”


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