This time last year, Dan Petry was flat on his back, resting a herniated disk that wiped out half of his first training camp with the Angels and set the tone for the summer ahead.
Petry wound up spending much of the 1988 baseball season off his feet--two months, in fact, after suffering an ankle sprain of near-world record proportion. Petry sprained the ankle on June 20 while fielding Kirby Puckett's grounder--and didn't pitch again for the Angels until Aug. 30.
That's 70 days between starts, seemingly enough time to rehabilitate seven sprained ankles.
"It wasn't supposed to be anything at first," Petry recalled. "They said it would push my next start back a day, maybe. It ended up being two months--and it's still not completely healed.
"Everybody's told me since that I would've been better off if I had broken it. At least a broken bone will heal by a particular time."
The bad ankle contributed to a very wobbly season for Petry, who won only three of 22 starts. He finished 3-9, the worst record of his big league career, and Petry's 4.38 earned-run average was his third-highest in 10 major league seasons.
Yet, when Petry looks back on 1988, he calls the season "a steppingstone for me" and says "I proved something to myself."
"I had no arm problems," he said.
Those are sweet words to a pitcher, words Petry hadn't recited since 1984. He sat out two weeks near the end of 1985 with a sore right elbow, had bone chips surgically removed from that elbow in 1986 and spent 1987 tentatively testing the elbow again against American League hitters.
The 1988 season delivered Petry a change of pace. Back problems, yes. Ankle problems, yes.
But the pitching arm, at last, was trouble-free.
"That's the thing that was the most encouraging," he said. "The ankle, that was a freak injury. With my back, I've taken steps to prevent that from happening again, through exercises and stretching.
"Obviously, your arm is your biggest concern as a pitcher. . . . To tell the truth, I thought I threw the ball well last year."
At least when Petry was physically able to throw.
Hidden beneath mediocre season totals were the three 1-0 games in which Petry was involved--he went 1-2 in those games--and the trio of three-hitters he completed.
"I don't know if, in my best year in Detroit, I ever pitched that many three-hitters," Petry said. "Maybe that doesn't mean anything to anybody else, but it means something to me.
"I've been looking for that feeling for a long time."
Petry, 30, came to camp with modest goals: Not to miss any starts and to pitch a lot of innings.
He just needs all of his body parts to cooperate.
After a rain-shortened workout Thursday, the Angels scrambled to leave camp and head for the buses that would take them across the Arizona desert to Yuma, where the club opens exhibition play today against the San Diego Padres.
Because of the hasty departure, Angel Vice President Mike Port had time to reach agreements with only half of the team's six unsigned players--second baseman Mark McLemore and pitchers Willie Fraser and Jack Lazorko.
Port said he made final offers to the outfielder Devon White and pitchers Chuck Finley and Urbano Lugo and will wait until today for replies. Port said he will automatically renew all unsigned contracts.
Angel outfielder Claudell Washington was unwillingly, and unhappily, drawn into the latest New York Yankees controversy when Rickey Henderson named Washington as a comrade in the war against alcohol on Yankee team flights. According to a story in Thursday's edition of the New York Post, an "anonymous Yankee" approached Yankee coach Mike Ferraro last season to request a hard-liquor ban on the team charter, with Washington being identified as that player by Henderson. According to the Post, "Washington supposedly told the coach, 'I think we've got a situation going where a number of players feel some of the guys are drinking too much. I think somebody ought to do something about it.' "
Washington's reaction to the report? "I don't know anything about it," he said. "I ain't talking about the Yankees. I'm outside all that . . . now."
Jim Abbott has received his most unusual autograph request yet--from Cuban President Fidel Castro. Officials of the Cuban government contacted Abbott's agent on behalf of Castro, a former pitcher and longtime baseball fan. Castro was impressed by Abbott's pitching against the Cuban national team. The Angels' publicity staff plans to send an autographed baseball to Castro.
Pitching matchups for today's exhibition opener at Yuma: Mike Witt, Jack Lazorko, Sherman Corbett and Urbano Lugo for the Angels; Bruce Hurst, Dave Leiper and Mark Davis for the Padres. Mike Fetters, Abbott and Rich Monteleone are the scheduled Angel pitchers for today's B game against the Padres.