For the 12th time in 13 seasons, Stewart Cliburn will begin the year in the minor leagues.
Cliburn met with Manager Doug Rader, General Manager Mike Port and pitching coach Marcel Lachemann Monday and listened calmly as they explained he was being sent to Edmonton, the Angels’ triple-A farm team.
“This isn’t new,” Cliburn said. “It’s never fun, but it’s the nature of the game.”
Cliburn was 9-3 with six saves in 1985 as set-up man for Donnie Moore and then, after two years of arm problems in the minors, he returned to the Angels last season.
He was 4-2 with a 4.07 earned-run average in 40 appearances in 1989, but has been struggling this spring.
“I just wasn’t very sharp the last couple of outings,” said Cliburn, who allowed seven hits and five runs in 2 1/3 innings Thursday. “There’s nothing wrong physically. It’s not like I can’t pitch anymore.
“I’m not the kind of pitcher who will impress a new manager in one outing. I have to impress over the course of a season. When you’re the ninth or 10th pitcher on a squad, you know you have to go out and win a spot. I haven’t been very impressive lately.”
Rader said Cliburn still is in the Angels’ plans, however, and that the 32-year-old right-hander simply needs to work out a few kinks in his delivery that have kept his pitches up.
When Cliburn is up, he doesn’t get outs.
“Stewart Cliburn has a good arm,” Rader said. “I think he’ll be able to pitch in the big leagues again. He just needs to figure out how to keep the ball down. When he gets the ball up, it’s not a very forgiving area for him.”
Cliburn says he will keep his chin up, work on keeping his pitches down and wait for the Angels to call him in Edmonton.
“Doug Rader didn’t see me at my best, but I’ll impress him somewhere down the line,” he said, managing a smile.
Rookie Jim Abbott seemed more upset about the news than Cliburn, even though Abbott seems assured of making the 24-man roster.
“It’s hard for me to feel good about my situation,” Abbott said. “When I came out to Anaheim (this winter) by myself, Stewart went out of his way to take me out to breakfast a couple of times. He’s been a good friend. It’s kind of tough to see him go.”
Abbott may have been a dark-horse candidate to make the team, but pitcher Vance Lovelace was an even longer shot when camp opened this spring.
If the Angels do keep 11 pitchers, Lovelace has made the team. If they go with 10, the 6-foot-5, 25-year-old left-hander will be battling Abbott for the No. 10 spot.
Lovelace is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in five innings this spring.
The Angel staff, as it appears now: Starters Mike Witt, Kirk McCaskill, Chuck Finley, Bert Blyleven, and Dan Petry or Abbott; relievers Willie Fraser, Greg Minton, Bob McClure, Bryan Harvey and Lovelace.
In other roster moves Monday, utility man Darrell Miller was given his unconditional release; the contract of outfielder Marcus Lawton was returned to Tidewater of the International League (the Mets’ triple-A affiliate) and pitcher Terry Clark was placed on the 21-day disabled list, retroactive to March 19.
Miller, who hit .241 in parts of five seasons with the Angels, had a .221 batting average and appeared in 70 games last season. Miller cleared out his locker and left Palm Springs early Monday.
“We released him out of deference to the human being,” Rader said. “Darrell said he didn’t think he should have to go back to Edmonton for the fifth time and I think he’s right. That’s above and beyond the call of duty.”
Miller, used as an outfielder, a catcher, pinch-hitter and designated hitter, had one hit in eight at-bats this spring.
Bert Blyleven pitched six innings, allowing four hits and one run Monday as the Angels beat the San Diego Padres, 2-1, in front of 4,113 at Angels Stadium. Bryan Harvey picked up his fifth save of the spring. . . . Manager Doug Rader said he wants to cut the roster to 24 as soon as possible. “There will be full documentation as soon as we can justify it,” he said after being asked for the umpteenth time about Jim Abbott’s status. “I don’t see any point in prolonging the agony for anyone.” . . . Marc Johnson, 7, of Yucaipa, was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Claudell Washington during batting practice Monday. Johnson, who suffered a concussion, was taken to Desert Hospital and held overnight for observation.