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ANGELS : Armas’ Status Still a Mystery

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Armas is still missing.

It’s not clear whether visa or travel problems or an injured leg have kept Armas from getting to the Angels’ training camp. Team officials said Thursday that neither they nor Armas’ agent have been able to contact the 36-year-old non-roster player in his native Venezuela, and so they are not sure when--or if--he will appear.

Armas is believed to be nursing a severely pulled hamstring, which he incurred playing winter ball.

“I don’t think he wants to come to camp limping,” Preston Gomez, the Angels’ assistant general manager, told the Associated Press. “He knows he has to impress people and win a job, and he’s not going to be able to do that with a bad leg.

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“Tony, you know, has had bad legs for a long time. It’s just my opinion, but I think he’s afraid to come here in the shape he’s in.”

Armas’ history of pulled and torn muscles in his thighs and hamstrings prompted the Boston Red Sox to release him after the 1986 season.

His career apparently at an end, Armas sat out half of the 1987 season, but the Angels signed him to a minor league contract in July and eventually promoted him to the majors.

In 1988, Armas played a key platoon role for the Angels, hitting .272 with 13 homers in 120 games.

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Last year, Armas got off to a fast start--he was hitting .439 as late as July--but his season was interrupted by two disabling leg injuries. He only got six hits during September.

Armas finished with 11 homers and a .257 average, appearing in 60 games.

When Mark Langston got his first look at the Angels’ schedule, he couldn’t help but smile. The Angels were to open in Seattle April 2 against the Mariners, who traded Langston to Montreal last season after figuring they wouldn’t be able to sign him when he became a free agent. Langston probably would have started that game.

“After I signed and saw the schedule, I was just laughing,” he said. “That would have been something.”

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He still could start the season against the Mariners, because the Angels’ April 9 home opener against Seattle will now be their season opener. Langston wouldn’t go so far as to say he wanted to be the Opening Day starter, but he certainly would savor the irony.

“I’ll pitch whenever they want me to,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

Langston said he felt “real good” after three days’ work and is looking forward to pitching in the Angels’ first exhibition games in Yuma next week against the Padres. Manager Doug Rader will announce the rotation for that series Saturday.

“I’m ready to pitch,” Langston said. “That’ll be the real test to see what kind of shape my arm’s in.”

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The lockout may cost Jim Abbott the chance to learn a new pitch.

Pitching coach Marcel Lachemann had planned to work with Abbott on perfecting the left-hander’s off-speed pitch, which would expand his repertoire and help him keep hitters off balance in his second season. But with only half the usual time to prepare for the season, there’s no time to do much beyond the basics.

“It can be incorporated into his work when he’s throwing batting practice, but you need time on the side to really work on something like that,” Rader said. "(The shortened spring training) will retard the development of that pitch.”

The lockout also forced Rader and his coaches to arrive with more preconceived plans than if they had six weeks to look at different players.

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“You hate to go into spring training inflexible, but the bottom line is that there’s less opportunity for an individual to impress you,” he said. “You can afford the vast majority of young players fewer at bats.”

Rader said he has been pleasantly surprised to see that virtually all the players kept themselves in good condition during the lockout and reported to camp in top shape.

“Chili (Davis) looks like he’s 20 pounds lighter and Devo (Devon White) looks great,” Rader said. “You couldn’t ask for better cooperation.”

The lockout is an unavoidable topic, as players try to estimate its effects on their preparation for the season. But designated hitter Brian Downing has had enough of lockout discussions.

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“I’m tired of talking about it,” he said. “Aren’t people tired of hearing about it?”

Mark Clear, who underwent surgery on his right elbow last March and missed all of last season, has been throwing without pain. Still, Rader finds it hard to judge the 33-year-old reliever’s progress.

“He’s still a little bit wild,” Rader said. “The thing about Mark Clear that’s so hard to read is that his mechanics and delivery are so unorthodox, he’s got to pretty much work through things himself. When you’ve got a guy that funky, things have got to fall into place by themselves.”


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