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ANGELS : Trip to Bullpen Appears in Future for Valera

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels, wanting to be cautious with pitcher Julio Valera, probably will open the season with him in the bullpen instead of in their rotation, Manager Buck Rodgers said Monday.

The move indicates that John Farrell, who has not pitched the last two seasons because of elbow operations, will be the fourth starter, joining Mark Langston, Chuck Finley and Scott Sanderson.

The Angels are expected to leave Valera in the bullpen until April 18, when they will need another starter for the first time. A fifth starter will be needed only twice in April, after which the Angels plan to use a five-man rotation throughout the season.

“If there’s anybody that might benefit from innings in the bullpen, he’d be the guy,” Rodgers said of Valera"We want to bring him along slowly, start him off by pitching mop-up, and this would be a way to keep checking him out.”

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Valera, who has not pitched in an exhibition game since March 20 because of a tender elbow, went through a rigorous 18-minute workout Monday in which he threw fastballs and changeups to bullpen catcher Rick Turner. He reported no pain, but said he was throwing his fastball at only 80% of its normal speed, and chose not to throw any breaking balls.

“I feel great,” Valera said, “but I’m still kind of scared to let it go. I didn’t want to take any chances with the curveball. I’ll wait until I get my full arm strength.

“But I do know I’ll be ready for my first start.”

Said Chuck Hernandez, Angel pitching coach: “I think this was a good confidence-builder for him. (It) will be a determining factor to see how he feels.”

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Moving Valera to the bullpen would allow Farrell to make a comeback that many believed would be impossible. He has undergone elbow surgery twice, including total reconstruction of his right elbow.

“The key guy in all this is Farrell,” Rodgers said. “He afforded us this luxury. He already got over one (obstacle) by throwing the ball down here. Now, he has got to overcome the other by pitching to major league hitters in major league surroundings.”

Said Farrell, who has yielded only nine hits in 16 innings while posting a 1.13 earned-run average: “I feel like it’s my first year all over again. It’s a new beginning for me.”

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Sanderson, the losing pitcher in the Angels’ 3-1 defeat by the Chicago Cubs on Monday, said of his selection as the No. 3 starter: “I’m pleased that Buck has made that decision. Now, I feel like it’s my job to go out and validate his decision.”

The Angels are expected to announce today that they will also guarantee Sanderson’s major league contract at $500,000.

Angel Notes

Although Manager Buck Rodgers conceded that he is a bit concerned about Joe Grahe’s spring performance, he said Grahe, who is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA, still deserves to be the Angels’ bullpen closer. “I think we’re obligated to give him that opportunity,” Rodgers said, “based on what he did last year. You can’t say he got bounced around in spring training and therefore we’re not going to give him the opportunity. The better we build around him, the better our bullpen will be throughout the year.” . . . Rodgers said that, barring the late acquisition of a left-handed reliever off the waiver wire, Mark Holzemer (2.89 ERA) or Jerry Nielsen (4.09 ERA) will be on the opening-day roster. Rodgers said he wants another left-hander besides Steve Frey in the bullpen, which would mean that Scott Lewis (0-1, 3.75 ERA) might open the season in triple-A Vancouver.

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Ty Van Burkleo had his left big toe drained Monday morning after being spiked Sunday and is expected to resume playing today. “It feels 100% better than it did,” he said. “I could barely walk on it this morning.” He still is a slight favorite over outfielder Jerome Walton for the final spot on the team, but Van Burkleo has only five hits in his last 26 at-bats. . . . The Angels’ biggest problem this week will be deciding whom to pull off their 40-man roster. They still have to place Rene Gonzales, Stan Javier and Gene Nelson on the 40-man roster, and they have only two vacancies.

Third baseman Gonzales forgot his jersey Monday and wore No. 55 instead of 88. The change didn’t help. He was hitless in four at-bats and has only one hit in his last 23 at-bats. He and third baseman Gary Gaetti are a combined three for 40, an .075 average. . . . Mark Langston will pitch against Milwaukee’s Bill Wegman in the season opener next Tuesday at Anaheim Stadium. The Angels’ Chuck Finley will face the Brewers’ Cal Aldred in the second game of the series.

First baseman J.T. Snow pulled off perhaps the Angels’ defensive gem of the spring when he ran about 75 feet down the line, dived and caught Sammy Sosa’s pop-up in foul territory. Snow’s batting average has plummeted to .173 and he has only two hits in his last 22 at-bats. “There are a couple of guys that are getting down on themselves,” Rodgers said, “and I plan to talk to them.” . . . Holzemer was still being teased about being victimized by Finley’s prank Sunday. Finley and a few of his teammates hoisted Holzemer’s sports car onto blocks, took off the rear tires and placed them in front of his locker with a “For Sale” sign.


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