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Abbott’s Spot on Team Appears Set : Angels Keep Rookie While Cutting Pitching Staff to 11

Times Staff Writer

The Angels announced a number of roster moves Monday, but the biggest news was what they wouldn’t say: Jim Abbott virtually has been assured a spot on the opening-day roster, which probably means he will be a member of the Angels’ five-man rotation.

The Angels optioned right-handed pitchers Stewart Cliburn and Rich Monteleone to triple-A Edmonton Monday, reducing the pitching staff to 11. Manager Doug Rader says there is a “real possibility” that he may open the season with an 11-man staff. If the Angels go with a staff of 10, Abbott and left-hander Vance Lovelace will battle for the final spot.

“Jim deserves to be in this position,” said Rader, stopping just short of saying Abbott is a shoo-in for a spot on the 24-man roster. “It’s very encouraging for him to be coming down to competing for the final spot and a starting job.”

The Angels insist they won’t keep Abbott on the team for sporadic use as a long reliever, which means the rookie may well have locked up the position as the No. 5 starter.

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Veteran right-hander Dan Petry, who needs to “build more arm strength,” according to pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, likely will be moved out of the rotation into a long-relief role. Petry has been effective for a few innings before tiring and faltering during three outings this spring.

“Petry is a guy we’re looking for down the road,” Rader said. “We believe his physical ability will return and he will help us. Whether it’s in a role as a starter or in relief remains to be seen. But, at this point, he’s not quite ready to be a starter.”

Abbott, of course, is ready and willing. And it’s probably no coincidence that Abbott will make his first start of the spring Wednesday against the San Diego Padres. Petry was scheduled to start that game but will pitch in relief of Abbott instead.

Lachemann said the switch was made to allow Abbott to “stretch out (pitch more than three innings),” but Rader conceded that the Angels are hoping that Abbott will give the team what “Petry hasn’t been able to provide.”

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Abbott is 2-1 with a 5.54 earned-run average in 13 innings this spring, but Rader maintains those numbers are deceiving.

“There’s only been two balls hit hard off him,” Rader said. “The last time he pitched, he gave up four broken-bat hits.”

Rader, who has been as impressed with Abbott’s poise and presence as his stuff, said the left-hander’s lack of professional experience is not a problem.

“You have to keep in mind that’s not your normal 21-year-old we’re talking about here,” Rader said. “The quality of effort, his stuff, his composure . . . his whole program is not comparable with any other 21-year-old I’ve ever been around.


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