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Stiffness in Elbow Sends McClure Out; Howell on Crutches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Exhibition games don’t count, but injuries suffered in them do.

Having lost the left side of their infield and facing the possible loss of relief pitcher Bob McClure, the Angels could be counting the effects of this short but costly spring for weeks to come.

McClure, who last season made an art form of facing left-handed hitters in clutch situations, left Thursday’s 8-7 loss to the Padres when a persistent stiffness in his left elbow grew more painful. McClure, who had retired all 14 batters he had faced in four previous spring appearances, departed after two-thirds of an inning, in which he gave up four hits and was charged with three runs.

He will be examined today, before the Angels open the Freeway Series against the Dodgers at Anaheim Stadium at 7:30.

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“My elbow had been bothering me for a while,” McClure said. “It had just been a little tight, but you usually have stuff going through your arm, and it either gets better or gets worse. This time, instead of loosening up and getting better, every time I threw a pitch, it was getting worse. Every pitch hurt.

“It kept getting stiffer and stiffer, and I figured when I really started feeling a lot of pain, I shouldn’t be taking a chance on hurting it. I said, ‘Let’s take care of it now,’ because there’s only a couple of days left before the season starts.”

The Angels knew they would have to start the season without shortstop Dick Schofield, who was put on the 15-day disabled list Saturday because of a strained hamstring, and they learned Thursday that they will also open without third baseman Jack Howell.

An examination by Dr. Graff Radford and X-rays of Howell’s injured left ankle taken at Eisenhower Medical Center determined that Howell had suffered a sprained ankle while attempting to beat out a ground ball to the right side in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game. He is expected to miss at least seven days.

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Howell’s ankle was wrapped, a protective splint was put on and he was issued a pair of crutches.

“They’re my only means of transportation for a while,” he said, trying to smile. “It’s pretty sore, but the key is to be positive. I want to be ready for opening day, whenever that will be for me.”

Opening day for most of the Angels will be Monday, and playing third that day will be either Rick Schu or Donnie Hill. Schu, who began his career with the Phillies, spent last season with Baltimore and Detroit and was signed as a free agent. He is technically still on the Angels’ minor league roster. Hill, who played for the Oakland A’s, was signed as a free agent in January and was invited to camp as a non-roster player.

“Had things been normal, Mark McLemore would have gone there, but he’s doing so well at shortstop (in Schofield’s absence), I don’t want to be disruptive,” said Manager Doug Rader. "(Hill and Schu) are our best choices at this time. Throughout the weekend, it will need further evaluation.”

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Further complicating the picture is a persistent rib injury that has limited infielder Kent Anderson’s activity the past week. Anderson was a late-inning replacement Thursday, his first game action since he hurt himself last Saturday as he turned to field a ground ball. “He seems to be feeling a little bit better, but with Jackie down and Scholey out, we’ve got to be careful,” Rader said.

The Angels had intended to construct a flexible roster, but they hoped its limits would not be tested quite so early or so frequently.

“Rick has come in as a non-roster guy, as has Donnie, and shown enough versatility to be on the roster opening day,” Rader said. “Rick has been very productive. He should be happy with the job he’s done. Rick can play third base and outfield, and we’ve given him some work as the backup catcher. Given Rick’s versatility at first, third and outfield, that can’t do anything but help.”

Schu was two for four in Thursday’s loss to the Padres and has a .500 batting average--nine for 18--after eight games. The 28-year-old Philadelphia native has collected three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs.

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“You hate to get in there off somebody’s injury,” he said. “Especially Jack, because he’s a big part of the club. Hopefully, I figured into their plans anyway.”

He once figured into the Phillies’ plans as the successor to Mike Schmidt, and he was installed at third in 1985 when Schmidt was moved to first. The shift was supposed to groom Schu for stardom and ease the strain on Schmidt’s knees, but it did neither.

“I didn’t feel any pressure replacing him, because he was still in the lineup, but there’s pressure playing in the big leagues, anyhow,” Schu said.

“He realized first base was a lot more moving around than he had anticipated, so he went back to third. It wasn’t so bad. I could have been in a lot worse situations. I was still in the big leagues. A lot of my buddies have put in 10 years in the minors and have nothing to show for it.”

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Schu played 28 games for Baltimore’s minor league affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., last year and was promoted for one game. He finished the season with Detroit, where he hit .214 in 98 games. The Angels signed him in February.

“My agent, Arn Tellem, put out a fax to let people know I was available, but we didn’t get any big league invitations,” he said. “A lot of clubs put me on hold. It was getting close to spring training, and I didn’t want any maybes, and I signed with the Angels.

“I just want to play in the big leagues. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The Angels’ defeat Thursday was their fourth in a row and sixth in eight games against San Diego this spring. Their overall record fell to 6-7.

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Wally Joyner, in his best offensive showing, was three for five with four RBIs, including a two-run single in the third that gave the Angels a 3-0 lead.

Rader, who had expressed displeasure at his players’ failure to think as well as work, discussed that with the team Thursday. He said the emphasis until opening day will be “doing the right thing in the right situations. If they do, then winning will follow.”

Outfielder Dan Grunhard, who had a strong training camp, was returned to the Angels’ minor league camp for reassignment. Outfielder-first baseman Lee Stevens and pitcher Sherman Corbett were optioned to Edmonton. The moves left the Angels with 32 players on their roster, plus non-roster players Hill, Schu and Mark Eichhorn.

Bert Blyleven, who will start on opening day, gave up four runs and seven hits over five innings Thursday in his final spring appearance. Jack Clark’s two-run homer to left in the fourth inning, his third in the last two games, did half the damage.

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“It was all right. He got in the work he wanted,” pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said of Blyleven. “He should be ready (for the opener). He made some good, quality pitches and a couple of bad ones. He’s as ready as he’s going to be.”

Chuck Finley will pitch against the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela tonight at Anaheim Stadium in the opener of the Freeway Series.


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