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For Rader, Roster Change Is Heaven-Sent : Angels: Manager now has more time to see more players. And players on the bubble have more time before it bursts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His first reaction was to make the sign of the cross in gratitude. But having been burned once before, Doug Rader checked to make sure that the restoration of 27-man rosters is a gift that won’t be snatched away again.

“Seriously? And no more give and take?” the Angels’ manager said. “That’s great news.”

For Rader, gaining three players balanced a 5-3 loss to the Padres Monday. The unexpected change also renewed the hopes of fringe and minor-league players whose chances of sticking with the club had diminished dramatically last week, when the original 27-man plan was changed to 24. Monday’s announcement should help reliever Mark Eichhorn, outfielder Max Venable--or possibly Dan Grunhard--and infielders Kent Anderson and Bobby Rose, all of whom were in a twilight zone between making the team and making a trip to triple-A Edmonton.

“It’s a nice thing to get back to where we once were,” Angel General Manager Mike Port said. “Given the shortened spring, it’s a good thing for the clubs and the players, and we’ll try to make use of it accordingly.”

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Rader said he will now take 12 or 13 pitchers instead of 11, but he hasn’t yet determined how many infielders and outfielders he will keep. The players involved are counting--and hoping.

“I’m on the borderline, for sure,” Venable said. “This could help, but it all depends on the manager and what he wants to do. With the shortened spring, he may have to go with more pitchers. I do have to say I’m more optimistic now . . . It makes it interesting.”

Grunhard, whose .350 batting average and outstanding defensive skills give him an outside shot at the last roster spot, was interested to learn about the expanded rosters but not especially elated.

“I actually haven’t sat down and tried to figure out the numbers,” he said. “It’s not something that concerns me directly. I’m more concerned with what I do on the field.”

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Dante Bichette, who now appears to have firm hold on an outfield spot, heartily approved the change.

“I think it’s smart,” he said, “but I’m going to make this team no matter how many there are on the roster.”

Infielder Anderson probably would have made the roster even had it been 24, but 27 gives him an extra bit of insurance.

“Any time you’re young and in the situation I am, you’ve got to prove yourself everyday,” he said. “You can’t relax. You’ve got to work and hope that at the end of spring training, everything works out.”

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The 27-man roster will work out well, according to Lance Parrish. “But we’d better hurry up and start the season before they change their minds again,” he said.

Making his second start, Angel starter Chuck Finley tired noticeably in the fifth inning Monday. However, he wasn’t perturbed about giving up three runs in 4 1/3 innings.

“I could have gone longer if I’d gotten a ground ball here or there,” said Finley, who had pitched three shutout innings last Thursday. “I want to do good, but I don’t want to be crazy about it. Nobody ever won the World Series in spring training and nobody ever won the Cy Young. I’ve seen a few sayonaras, though, that’s for sure.”

The Angels had given Finley a 3-0 lead on RBI singles by Devon White in the first and Johnny Ray in the third, and on Chili Davis’ second home run of the spring, in the fourth. Derrin Jackson drove in two runs in the fifth for San Diego on a double, and scored the tying run after a balk by reliever Mark Clear and a passed ball.

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Rader praised Finley and said the left-hander’s fatigue was understandable.

“He’s a full-effort type pitcher, and he was going all out,” Rader said. “He did a terrific job.”

Finley said the performance was in no way a setback.

“I went three innings the other day and this time I wanted to go four,” he said. “It’s like doing 50 sit-ups and you have to do 70. Each day you need to push yourself a little more. Next time, I’m shooting for six innings.”

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While Anderson sat out because of strained rib cartilage, Mark McLemore had a strong day at shortstop. McLemore, who has played far more second base than shortstop in recent years, was two-for-five and looked smooth in helping turn two double plays. “I feel awesome. I feel good, real good,” said McLemore, who has a spring batting average of .370 (10 for 27). “The thing I have to concentrate most on (while playing short) is actually throwing. From second, I can pretty much flip the ball. It isn’t a problem, just a matter of concentrating.”

An incident involving Brian Downing and a fan outside Angels Stadium after the game was defused when coaches Moose Stubing and Bobby Knoop separated the two. The fan apparently had insulted Downing, who cautioned the man not to say anything further. No blows were struck.

Downing was a late scratch from the lineup because of a strained muscle below the rib cage on his right side. That is a recurrence of the problem that has plagued him the past two seasons, but this time, it’s only expected to idle him a day or two. Downing aggravated the injury while swinging the bat Sunday.

Rader postponed announcing his Opening Day pitcher until today because he had not gotten a chance to discuss his plans with all the pitchers. It is likely to be Bert Blyleven.

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Indisputable proof that the Angels hitting has improved was the double Jack Howell lined over the head of Joe Carter in center field in the fourth inning off left-handed starter Dennis Rasmussen. Howell hit only .140 off left-handers last season.

“It has to carry over into the season, which is what I plan on doing,” Howell said.


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