BASEBALL PREVIEW : Angel Clubhouse More of a Fun House This Season : Prospectus: But team must avoid last season's comedy of errors to contend in American League West.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only part of Dave Parker's ostrich-skin briefcase was visible amid the clutter in his locker, so when rookie pitcher Scott Lewis saw it, he thought it looked like a purse.

And he dared to say so to Parker, who began his baseball career when Lewis was beginning kindergarten.

Drawing himself up to his full 6-foot-5, 250-pound majesty, Parker pretended to take offense. "Any problem with the way I look?" he asked Lewis, pointing to his outfit and briefcase.

Lewis, playing along, pretended to be terrified. "No problem," he said. "Sir."

The Angels' clubhouse, once somnolent and sour, is a fun place to be these days.

"Everybody here is lively and energetic," said Manager Doug Rader, who starts his third season with the security of a new two-year contract and greater say in personnel decisions.

"People always wonder why ballplayers don't stay around the clubhouse more and chew the fat. It's tough to do when people in the clubhouse don't like each other. The people here get along."

Not only are they getting along, General Manager Mike Port believes they can go so far as to win the American League West title.

"Go around by position," Port said. "If Lance Parrish is Lance Parrish, Wally (Joyner) is Wally, Luis Sojo and on around through the pitching, yes, we can win it. And that's without asking any one of those guys to be anything he hasn't been before. That's not saying Wally Joyner has to hit 45 homers (after hitting 37 the past three seasons), or Dick Schofield (a career .233 hitter), has to hit .322.

"If they are what they have been in the past and they're able to take the field with regularity, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."

They won 80 games last season after winning 91 in 1989 and giving the Oakland A's a serious challenge that summer. Injuries, a porous defense that committed 142 errors--second to the Milwaukee Brewers--and inconsistent offensive production undermined their 1990 effort and left them 12 games out of first place by May.

Port was relieved of many administrative duties last fall in a shake-up that made him responsible to Richard Brown, the club's president and chief executive officer. Since then, Port has made some uncharacteristically bold moves to balance the offense and solidify the defense. He may be more successful with his offensive maneuvers than the defensive moves: Sojo is dexterous but inexperienced at second base and Junior Felix's experience in center field is limited, making the entire outfield questionable.

Overall, the Angels seem to have more dimensions than home-run hitting, their staple in 1989, and starting pitching, on which they relied too much last season.

"We're going to have a lot of fun and a good ballclub," Parker said. "We're very secure defensively, we've got good starting pitching, a good bullpen. We're a complete ballclub, but you've got to execute . . . We match up well with anyone in the league. We can go blow to blow with anyone."

There's also enough speed and contact hitters for Rader to use the hit-and-run.

"When you can diversify your offensive approach, it gives you more chances to score," Rader said. "You're not going to hit for power all year long, and when you have the capability of manufacturing runs all year, it helps you to be a little more consistent."

Chuck Finley proved himself the Angels' most consistent and gutsiest pitcher last season, winning a career-best 18 games and finishing second to Roger Clemens with a 2.40 earned-run average. Kirk McCaskill squeezed 12 victories out of a right elbow that required post-season surgery, and has looked impressive since regaining greater range of motion.

Mark Langston endured stretches when he pitched well and got little offensive help, but he didn't help himself by giving up 61 runs with two out, more than half the 120 runs he allowed. Opponents hit .375 after a 2 and 0 count and .441 after a 3 and 1 count, and .259 overall. Only by winning five of his last seven decisions did he reach double figures in victories, at 10-17. He might feel more relaxed with his transitional year behind him.

Jim Abbott has never lacked courage, but he has lacked an effective third pitch and the ability to retire left-handers, who hit better than .300 against him in each of his first two seasons. Bert Blyleven's slow recovery from shoulder surgery might idle him for the first two months of the season and threatens his career; right-hander Scott Lewis, who prevailed over Joe Grahe in their competition for Blyleven's place in the rotation, isn't a power pitcher, but his poise and control are promising.

The bullpen is a possible trouble spot. Bryan Harvey returns as the club's all-time save leader, but he had bouts of wildness last season and may always be subject to control problems. Left-hander Bob McClure, who missed most of last season because of tendinitis in his pitching elbow, won't be ready when the season starts because of tightness in his pitching shoulder. He was being counted on to face one or two batters in tough situations.

Submariner Mark Eichhorn didn't fool hitters after June, and left-hander Scott Bailes struggled for much of last season. Bailes had a strong spring after altering his diet to counterbalance hypoglycemia, which sapped his strength last season. Left-hander Floyd Bannister, back in the major leagues after a year in Japan, is expected to fill a middle-relief or setup role after a shaky spring. Right-hander Jeff Robinson, a Santa Ana native who is happy to be an ex-New York Yankee, will be used in middle relief.

The middle of the Angels' order will be stacked with power hitters--Joyner hitting third, Dave Winfield cleanup, Parker fifth, Lance Parrish sixth and third baseman Gary Gaetti seventh. For them to have anyone to drive in, leadoff hitter Luis Polonia and No. 2 hitter Sojo will have to get on base. Polonia hit .335 last season but was 66 plate appearances short of qualifying for the AL batting title. He's likely to get enough at-bats this season, playing against left-handers as he tries to fill the role of offensive catalyst.

"He's capable of being a great leadoff guy," Parker said of the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Polonia. "I don't think he'll hit as many home runs as Oakland's Rickey Henderson, but he utilizes the bunt a lot better than Rickey. He has the potential to create some havoc with his speed."

He also created some havoc in left field last season but has worked with coach Bruce Hines to strengthen his arm. "I want to be known for my defense, not just my hitting," Polonia said.

Joyner had a good spring, rebounding from the fractured right kneecap that ruined his 1990 season. Winfield was named the AL's comeback player of the year for hitting .267 with 21 home runs and 78 RBIs after back surgery caused him to sit out the 1989 season. Once in shape, Winfield had an outstanding second half. He followed that with a thunderous offensive showing this spring.

Gaetti, who signed a four-year, $11.4-million contract in January, has faded offensively the last two seasons while fighting knee and ankle ailments. The Angels resurfaced their infield to help him; he's expected to help improve the defensive play, which cost the Angels dearly last season. Their third basemen made 34 errors, more than any other club's third basemen, and their shortstops committed 34.

Parrish, who will be 35 in June, had his best season in five years in 1990, hitting .268 with 24 homers and 70 RBIs. He remains a skillful handler of pitchers and superb at throwing out base-stealers, having caught 55 of 117 last season. John Orton has yet to develop an eye at the plate or assertiveness behind the plate, but the organization is high on the 25-year-old's ability.

Parker played in 157 games last season at age 39, more games than any player that age except Pete Rose. He has averaged 96 RBIs per season over the last seven seasons and will be the regular designated hitter.

Parker also increases the Angels' average age, but Port isn't concerned.

"You run the risk, if you go with young players, of lacking experience, in contrast to guys who play well under pressure, who have been through it before," Port said.

Port also said the Angels didn't acquire Parker specifically to match Oakland's power.

"You still have to consider the White Sox and the capabilities of Seattle. To target in on one club wouldn't be the best thing to do," Port said. "You can't say, 'Oakland has Canseco and McGwire and we have Winfield and Parker.' You look at each position and try to improve accordingly. Oakland aside, there are six we want to be better than and you go on from there."

How much better they'll be defensively is questionable, a frightening prospect considering they made 46 more errors last season than in 1989. Sojo can't have less range than Johnny Ray, and a healthy Dick Schofield would enable Rader to use a set lineup after scrambling to find capable bodies last season. The constant juggling led to reserves playing unfamiliar positions and to all those errors.

Infielder Donnie Hill showed versatility in playing 103 games--including one as a pitcher--and he'll again be a valued backup. Jack Howell, who lost his job to Gaetti after a second successive .228 season, is projected as the backup at third and second and in left field.

An injury to Polonia, Felix or Winfield could be disastrous. Max Venable, a solid fill-in, can't jump-start the offense like Polonia; Dave Gallagher, acquired from Baltimore for his defensive skills in center, is limited offensively.

The Angels are likely to score runs, so the starting pitchers' ability to keep games close and the defense will be keys this season. "I think we're going to be in a lot of games," Hill said. "We have power all through the lineup with guys like Gaetti and Winfield and Parker, and guys like Polonia and Sojo . . . it's going to be interesting."

THE MANAGER

DOUG RADER

Angel season: Third.

Angel record: 171-153.

Rader, 46, managed the Texas Rangers and was a coach for the Chicago White Sox before joining the Angels. He was a scout before succeeding Cookie Rojas as Angel manager. Rader won five consecutive Gold Gloves at third base with Houston and finished his playing career with Toronto in 1977. His 91-71 record in 1989 made him only the fourth manager in club history to have a winning record his first season.

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