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It Is a Game of Inches for Fetters : Baseball: Angel right-hander has struggled with his control and is 0-3 with an earned-run average of 7.08.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Mike Fetters’ case, the cliche holds true: The difference between success and getting shelled has been a matter of inches.

Consider:

* July 27: The former Pepperdine All-American right-hander, in his first start of the year for the Angels, gives up four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the New York Yankees. The big blow, a three-run home run by Pat Kelly in the third inning, scrapes the top of the left-field wall, then bounces into the stands. Inches from staying in the park .

* Aug. 1: The 6-foot-5 Hawaiian, getting his second chance at filling the fifth spot in the Angels’ starting rotation, can’t finish off Detroit Tiger batters on two-strike counts and gives up three runs in less than two innings before being pulled for a reliever.

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“I’d get ahead, but then I’d get to three and two, and I had to throw a strike because I didn’t want to walk anybody,” Fetters, 26, said. “I want to be out there again. I haven’t given up on myself. If I ever put someone away, I’ll be all right.” Inches from finishing off hitters.

* Aug. 4: Fetters, called on to pitch the 12th inning of a 2-2 game against the Seattle Mariners, works to a full count on Jay Buhner with runners on the corners. “It was a forkball that just stayed up,” Fetters will say afterward of the pitch, which ends up in the right-field seats. Inches from being a heck of a pitch.

Any dieter will tell you that all the inches add up. The result is that Fetters is 0-3. His 20 1/3 innings worked is fewest among active Angel pitchers, but his earned-run average is a team-high 7.08. Fetters has not worked since the Aug. 4 relief disaster. That, plus the failed starts, puts him back in his old role as a long reliever--a mop-up man for when starting pitchers get shelled.

“He’s got to keep the ball in the strike zone, and keep ahead of the hitters,” said Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, who agrees with Manager Doug Rader that Fetters needs better control of his pitches.

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“At this level, you cannot get away with as many mistakes,” Lachemann said. “Hitters are too good and have been making him pay. You can’t get the ball up or fall behind all the time and get away with it. Mike’s got good stuff. He’s just got to stay in command of himself and keep the ball down in the strike zone. . . . He’s got enough stuff to win here if he does that.”

Despite it all, Fetters has kept this season in perspective.

“Like I tell my friends, it’s better to be here in the majors doing (poorly) than in the minor leagues,” Fetters said.

This situation is a long way from his dominating days at Pepperdine.

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From 1984 to 1986, Fetters was nicknamed “Pac-Man” for the way he gobbled up opponents. During his three years as a Wave, he set school career records in victories (33), strikeouts (292), appearances (77) and innings pitched (361 2/3), and had people around the Malibu campus comparing him with another baseball alumnus, Houston Astros pitching standout Mike Scott.

“A lot of those comparisons came just because he went to Pepperdine and I went there.” Fetters said. “I think also having the same success Mike Scott had there had a lot to do with it. But he always threw the ball harder than I did. I didn’t even have a forkball until my junior year of college.”

Fetters was the West Coast Conference pitcher of the year in 1986, when he went 13-7 while striking out 158 for the Pepperdine single-season strikeout record. After his junior year, he was the 27th pick in the free-agent draft, the fourth of the Angels’ five first-round picks that year.

He spent the 1986 and 1987 seasons at the lower levels of the minor leagues. He ended the 1988 season in Edmonton, the Angels’ triple-A farm club. In 1989, he led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts while starting 26 games for the Trappers (12-8, 3.80 ERA) before the Angels called him up Sept. 1 for his major league debut against the Yankees. Fetters gave up five hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings. It was his only appearance of the year.

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It also was the start of what has become an ordeal--not just making the major leagues, but staying there.

“My first year, I got called up at the end of the year, in September, and did not get sent down,” Fetters said. “The following year, I went to spring training and did all right. I got hurt, though, and that dampened things. I did not really expect to make the ballclub, but was hoping to anyhow. I got called up a month after the season started, and stayed for the rest of the year.”

Fetters made five starts with the Trappers in 1990 before the Angels called him up. The reviews were mixed. In two chances as a starter, Fetters gave up nine runs in nine-plus innings. In the bullpen, though, he didn’t allow any runs in his last 11 2/3 innings. Overall, he appeared in 26 games and had a 4.10 ERA.

Good enough, Fetters thought, to get a spot on the Angels’ opening-day roster.

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“This year, I went to spring training and thought I should have made the club,” Fetters said. “But I pulled a hamstring, and they sent me down to get me ready. This year was the first year I was really disappointed at not starting in the big leagues. I felt I did my job last year and I threw the ball really good in spring training, until I hurt my hamstring.

“Then, in Edmonton, things got worse. I was not throwing the ball real well when I did get healthy. I was scuffing with my mechanics, and my attitude was not into baseball. Like I said, I was disappointed by not being in the major leagues.”

Three good performances in Edmonton got him back to the Angels. Now it’s a matter of proving that he can stay in the major leagues.

“Pitching well is only going to come from consistently pitching,” Fetters said. “I think for the most part I’ve thrown the ball well. This year I’ve had one bad outing, where I did not get an out against Texas. But even in that game, I made some decent pitches. Right now I just need to get out there and throw the ball more so I can be consistent.”

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Consistency has come hard for Fetters. The only time he has not given up a run this year was when he was brought in to pitch to one batter, against Kansas City, on June 24.

‘It’s so much harder as a relief pitcher, because you can’t get into a routine that a starter can,” Fetters said. “A starter knows he’s going to get the ball every five days. As a reliever, you never know when you are getting in. Your routine kind of gets messed up.”

But now it’s back to those long afternoons in the bullpen.

“Everyone goes through concentration lapses,” Fetters said. “That time of game where you lose concentration and fall asleep a little bit. Myself, yeah, I lose concentration once in a while. But for the most part, I’m in every game. I need to be. That’s the hardest part, staying involved with the game.

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“I think there is a use for me, because our starters are not going to keep throwing this well. If they do, great, but it’s not going to happen. That’s just the way baseball goes.

“I’m just biding my time,” Fetters said, with a pause. “I guess.”


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