The Angels don't want to see it happen. They hate even contemplating the idea, wanting to provide Mark Leiter every possible chance to succeed.
Yet, this is a business, and after the Angels' 7-4 defeat Saturday night to the Oakland Athletics, they are staring at the cruel realization that they soon might have to make a decision.
Do they continue to keep Leiter in the starting rotation, or do they send him to the bullpen?
Leiter (2-3), who has shown his heart and courage this season, lost for the third consecutive game. He was lit up for a season-high 10 hits and seven earned runs in his seven-inning stint.
The Athletics had five runs and eight hits off Leiter by the fourth inning, and by the sixth, third baseman Scott Brosius had four runs batted in. Oakland had a 7-0 lead by the sixth inning.
The Angels scored three runs in the ninth to make things interesting for the 25,474 at Anaheim Stadium, but Dennis Eckersley struck out Tim Salmon for the final out, getting his first save of the season.
"He's reverting back to being a two-pitch pitcher," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said of Leiter. "He's been throwing that fastball-slider for so long, he has to start changing that a little bit and throw his split-finger more.
"I'm going to have to come up with something to change his thinking. I haven't decided what that will be yet."
Said Leiter, who might be spared a bullpen demotion for the time being by starter Brian Anderson's broken thumb: "He's the manager, so I'm not going to question him, but I just didn't make good pitches. I got hurt on my fastball as much as anything."
For the Athletics, at 9-21 off to the worst start in their 27 years in Oakland, it was only their second victory in 17 games. In fact, if not for starting pitcher Bobby Witt, they would be winless since April 17. He pitched six shutout innings Saturday and has been the only starter who has won a game for the Athletics the last three weeks.
Still, the Angels were in good spirits. They watched Mark Langston, the ace of their staff, put on a dazzling performance in a simulated four-inning game Saturday afternoon. Langston will be examined today by Dr. Lewis Yocum, and if Yocum provides clearance, Langston will return to the starting rotation this week on their trip.
Said Rodgers: "It's amazing that his arm can get cut on, and in four weeks be back in full tilt. Ten years ago, it would probably be a career-ending operation."
The most unfortunate aspect of Langston's return to the rotation is that he won't be joining Anderson. It was Anderson who replaced him April 10, with the Angels winning five of his six starts, and now Langston must replace Anderson.
"That's the disappointing part," Langston said. "He pitched so well for us, and I would have liked for him to stay in there. I wish both of us could have stayed in the rotation, because that would have made us a lot better team."
Anderson broke his left thumb while trying to field a grounder Friday night. It is expected to sideline him at least six weeks.
"The thing that stinks about it," Anderson said, "was that was the best I've thrown all year. But the bright spot is that Mark's coming back, and he won't hurt the rotation any.
"I mean, come on, we're adding Mark Langston."
The folks most disappointed in the latest turn of events are those in Anderson's hometown of Geneva, Ohio. They had planned a Brian Anderson Day on May 31 when the Angels are in Cleveland, with three buses already reserved to take folks to the game.
"I'm going to have to make that trip," Anderson said, "even if I have to fly out myself. There's no way I can miss that one now."