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ANGELS : Robinson Is Happy After Escape From New York

TIMES STAFF WRITER

People who were his allies one day snubbed him the next, and he was never sure when the manager might be fired and the coaches banished.

Yet, despite the chaos that swirled around the New York Yankees last season, pitcher Jeff Robinson salvaged his self-respect from the ruins of a last-place finish.

“I’d say it’s the year I’m most proud of,” said the Santa Ana native, who signed with the Angels as a free agent last month. “To survive that whole ordeal was something.

“I never had a feeling that anybody was pulling for me except a handful of players. There was hardly anyone besides (pitching coach) Billy Connors. He was definitely one man I had on my side. Then they let him go. . . .

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“I struggled early, and it seemed like all the coaches tried to distance themselves from a guy who wasn’t doing well. Then they changed managers, and here’s another bunch of guys who don’t know who you are.

“Billy and I worked hard for four weeks to get things straightened out, and once I did that, things fell into place and I started to pitch well. But I didn’t get in there, except when I made four starts when they had injuries to some of the starters.”

The insanity peaked in August, when he was removed from the rotation after four fine starts.

“I’d done everything they wanted me to do: I went into the rotation--which I hadn’t wanted to do--I pitched in relief, everything,” said Robinson, who finished with a 3-6 record and 3.45 earned-run average. “After they took me out, I knew I wasn’t in their plans.”

He began planning his escape when he filed for free agency and didn’t contact the Yankees. The Angels showed enough interest to sign him to a $1-million contract as bullpen insurance.

Robinson, who was traded to New York by the Pittsburgh Pirates in December of 1989, is so happy to be an Angel that he probably would rake the grass at Gene Autry Park if asked.

“They’re looking at me to pitch middle relief and be a setup man, but I told them I can do anything,” the former Cal State Fullerton pitcher said Monday. “I’ll pitch middle relief, I’ll pitch short relief, long relief, be a setup man or play second base.

“It’s such a pleasure to play for the team I grew up rooting for, and it’s a pleasure to play with this group of guys. I think we have a good chance to win the division. I’m still kind of new to the American League, but I know we have a great starting staff. It’s a perfect blend. On paper it looks very stable.”

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The word stable never applied to his season in New York.

“The only thing that was stable there,” Robinson said, “was the instability.”

This is Mark Eichhorn’s second spring with the Angels but his third season with the club, in a sense.

“The first half and second half were so different for me last year, it was like two seasons,” said Eichhorn, who had 13 saves and a 1.23 ERA on June 19 but failed to record another save and finished with a 3.08 ERA.

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“I know when things changed, but why? It wasn’t that hitters figured out my (sidearm) delivery. I’d faced the same hitters for three years. It was location, really. The more I pitch and more fatigued my arm is, the more effective I am. If I make my pitches I’m going to get people out.”

He must again prove he can get batters out if he’s going to be part of a staff that was fortified by the off-season signings of Robinson and Matt Keough.

“I look at it as I’ve got to make the club every spring training,” Eichhorn said. “I’ve felt real good so far. I’m working on being more consistent to left-handed hitters and more consistent with my forkball. In the first half last year I had a lot of success with my forkball, and if it’s working I can have success again.”

Bert Blyleven, Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott and Mark Langston were among the pitchers who didn’t throw Monday. Pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said Blyleven is far from ready for the season, but Lachemann isn’t fretting. “The progress he’s made in four days here is encouraging,” Lachemann said.

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Joe Grahe and Scott Lewis, cited by Lachemann as the logical replacements if Blyleven isn’t recovered from right shoulder surgery, will get enough work in exhibition games to ensure they could step into the rotation. A decision on Blyleven will be made after the club goes to Palm Springs in late March.

Manager Doug Rader said he isn’t averse to having Floyd Bannister start, which would give the Angels four left-handers in the rotation.

“It might disrupt the bullpen, but if the four are good enough, you don’t have to worry about a right-handed long man,” Rader said.

Angel Notes

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The rest of the squad is due to report today and will work out Wednesday. . . . Manager Doug Rader wants to see more of catching prospect Ken Rivers, who was acquired from Toronto with Junior Felix and Luis Sojo, before evaluating him. . . . Greg Walker, who underwent off-season surgery on his right elbow, will begin a weight program to strengthen his arm. It’s not a problem at the plate, but it limits him defensively.


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