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With Welch on the Mound, Angels Suffer Through Very Blue Monday

Times Staff Writer

Bob Welch wasn’t exactly engulfed in the warmth of the holiday spirit when he found out the Dodgers had traded him to the Oakland Athletics shortly before Christmas in 1987. In fact, Welch, who made his major league debut for the Dodgers when he was just 21 and won 115 games over the next 10 seasons with them, felt a chill of betrayal.

But it didn’t take the lanky right-hander long to get over his Dodger blues. Less than six months after the trade, Welch was 8-2 and on his way to the first 17-win season of his career, not to mention a trip to the World Series . . . against those Dodgers.

Welch’s visions of revenge didn’t exactly work out in storybook fashion, but the A’s failure to win a world championship didn’t stop many experts from tabbing the A’s as the next baseball dynasty.

And it certainly didn’t slow Welch, who came into the 1989 season locked into a sweet little groove.

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Just ask the Angels. Monday night, they managed just three hits--a double just inside the first-base line, a bloop single and a ground-ball single up the middle--in eight innings against Welch as the A’s beat the Angels, 4-0.

“For the last four games (two in spring training, two this season), Bobby’s been very effective at hitting his spots,” catcher Ron Hassey said, “very effective.”

And when Welch is hitting his spots, the guys in the batter’s box seldom hit the ball.

In his last two starts of the spring, he allowed a total of four hits and one earned run in 10 innings. Last week against Seattle, he pitched eight innings and gave up four hits and one run in an 11-1 Oakland romp.

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Monday, he struck out seven and walked one, retiring the first nine Angels in order and getting nine more in a row between the fifth and seventh.

The only time Welch was in trouble was the fourth when Brian Downing led off with a double and the Angels had runners on second and third with one out after Devon White singled and stole second. Welch squeezed the life out of that rally, however, striking out Wally Joyner and Chili Davis to end the inning.

Joyner went down swinging, but Davis was called out by umpire Larry McCoy on a low, outside fastball. Davis was not particularly pleased with the call, but Welch felt justice had been served.

“It was good pitch,” he insisted. “I liked it. And he (McCoy) liked it and that’s all that matters.”

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That was one of the few pitches Welch threw that drew debate. Most of the rest drew rave reviews.

“Welch was outstanding,” A’s Manager Tony La Russa said. “He threw all his pitches, on all counts to all locations. When hitters can’t sit on anything, a pitcher’s going to be all right.

“And the Angels have some very good hitters in there. That was some piece of work tonight.”

Welch, who is off to a 2-0 start with an 0.56 earned-run average, says the key to all this success has been the ability to pinpoint his fastball.

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“I threw the breaking ball for strikes and the split-finger for strikes, but control of the fastball sets it all up,” Welch said. “Both times out this year, I’ve had command of all three pitches, but when I can get groundouts on the outside fastball and jam people with the inside fastballs, it really helps.”

Welch admitted that he would have liked a shot at the ninth inning and a shutout, but he wasn’t going to quibble with the decision of La Russa and Dave Duncan, the A’s pitching coach, to remove him from the game because he had thrown 116 pitches.

“I felt good and still strong,” Welch said, “but you don’t want to throw a bunch of pitches early in the season and be dragging your butt by August.”

If he continues to pitch like he has the past few weeks, Welch may have surpassed last season’s win total by August. And the only thing that will be dragging is the rest of the league’s batting average.

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