ANGELS : Gonzales Remains Determined to Make Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angel infielder Rene Gonzales refuses to torment himself by thinking about it, but the potential for one of the zaniest scenarios of his career is hard to ignore.

In a matter of four weeks, Gonzales has gone from being the Angels' utility infielder . . . to their starting third baseman . . . to their starting second baseman . . . to uncertainty.

"I'm not going anywhere," Gonzales said firmly. "I don't know where I'll be in the lineup, but I'll be in the lineup."

Gonzales then paused, and softly said: "Of course, I've also been around long enough to know that anything can happen."

Provided the starting third base job after Kelly Gruber's rotator-cuff surgery, and moved to second base after Damion Easley's recurring shin splints, Gonzales appears set to be in the lineup.

Yet, what happens if Gary Gaetti continues his torrid pace this spring, maintaining his .333 batting average and playing flawless defensively? What happens when Easley returns?

What in the world would happen to Gonzales?

"I'm going to dodge that question," Rodgers said. "I don't deal with hypothetical questions that have no-win answers, and that's a no-win answer."

Gonzales, who went two for three with three runs batted in during the Angels' 8-5 victory Sunday over the Colorado Rockies, has spent six years in the major leagues trying to prove he's an everyday player. It's the first time he ever has been projected to open the season in the starting lineup.

Now, after a wacky turn of events, Gonzales hopes he still is provided the opportunity he believes he deserves.

"Everybody's looking for a secret formula why I played so well last year," Gonzales said, "but the key is that I just got a chance to play. If I get my chance, I think I'll do the same thing again.

Ty Van Burkleo, who spent 4 1/2 years of his life playing in Japan, continues to dazzle the Angels with his bat. He hit a 430-foot home run over a 30-foot wall in center field in Sunday's "B" game against Colorado. Van Burkleo, who is vying to win a job as a utility player, went three for three with a double, homer, two RBIs and a stolen base.

Angel starter Chuck Finley was scratched before his scheduled start Sunday because of a stiff neck, forcing reliever Gene Nelson to start. "I've had it for a couple of days and I thought it was fixed," Finley said, "but I wrenched it during batting practice. I could have pitched if I really had to, but I wouldn't have gotten anything positive out of it." . . . Torey Lovullo, trying to make the team as a utility infielder, enhanced his versatility Sunday by catching two innings in the B game. It was his first time catching since he was a junior in high school.

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