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Angels Can’t Struggle Now

In the month since he has been an Angel, Ken Hill has gone from concept to necessity. The Angels brought him here with the idea that he could duplicate his stretch-drive success with the Cleveland Indians two years ago. Now he must if the Angels have any hope of winning the American League West.

There’s no time for losing streaks in September. This team needs someone who can assure a victory almost every time his turn in the rotation comes up. That’s what the Angels lost when Chuck Finley fractured his wrist. That’s what they’ve been searching for ever since.

Mark Langston’s elbow is so bad he couldn’t pitch in a simulated game, much less a pennant race. Allen Watson has given the Angels consistent quality starts but, like rookie Jason Dickson, he doesn’t have a track record of getting it done when it counts; last year, Watson didn’t record a victory after Aug. 17. Plus it seems like every time Watson and Dickson pitch, they’re suffering from a sore shoulder or elbow. Dickson hasn’t been the same since the All-Star break. (And after watching him surrender a 383-foot home run to Walt Weiss--of all people--as part of a Colorado Rockies’ barrage Tuesday night, you wonder if Dickson will ever be the same again.)

Dennis Springer has done more than his share of work this year, but do you really want your pennant aspirations fluttering along with every bob and weave of a knuckleball?

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There’s no one in the farm system who can come to the rescue and there wasn’t anyone left to acquire in a trade. The Angels made their pennant-drive move already, sending Jim Leyritz to the Texas Rangers for Hill and tossing their catching duties into Todd Greene’s arms, one of which now has a fracture in the wrist. Greene’s injury makes it even more imperative that Hill produce, or the trade will be a complete waste.

“I can’t do it myself,” Hill said. “It’s going to take all of us to win. It’s not just going to be on somebody. It’s unfortunate Finley went down with that injury. I’ve been in this situation before, so a little focus will come my way.”

After he was acquired by the Cleveland Indians in 1995, Hill went 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA and the Indians won nine of his 11 starts. This year hasn’t produced similar results. He walked 19 in his first four games and gave up a total of 22 runs in his first 27 innings. But he came through with a clutch eight-inning, four-hit, one-run outing in a 3-1 victory over San Diego last week. Any more where that came from?

“I struggled early, but my game is coming back,” Hill said. “I feel a lot better. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can.

“The main thing now with the rotation is we’ve got to give the team opportunities. We can’t be getting down four or five runs a game. You’ve got to keep the game close.”

Relying on hitters to put up big numbers every game is dicey. With the shaky defense of Dave Hollins and Darrin Erstad lately, Angel pitchers can’t count on double plays to bail them out if they allow too many baserunners. And what’s Terry Collins supposed to do, manage harder?

“You just make sure that they continue to stay prepared, that’s what you do,” Collins said. “You make sure that they stay upbeat, they’re positive, they’re relaxed, get their work done and know what they’ve got to do during a ballgame. That’s it. That’s all you can do.”

After Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to Colorado, Collins lamented the absence of Finley and Langston.

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“You talk about what certain guys mean--you don’t have losing streaks,” Collins said. “They shut it down. That’s what those guys do. We’ve got to have somebody step up like Kenny Hill did the other night [in San Diego]. I just hope he can do it again.”

One thing the Angels can’t do is sit around and bemoan their fate. If anything, they might count their blessings that a finger injury has caused Seattle ace Randy Johnson to miss his last three starts. Since the Mariners have won 19 of the 26 games Johnson started this season, that’s at least two “guaranteed” victories the Mariners have been without.

And one break for the Angels is with three off days this month, including today, they can take a couple of extra turns with only a four-man rotation.

In the midst of this pitching mess, Collins has tried to stay calm.

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“I always go back to all of the years I spent in the minor leagues,” Collins said. “I looked up a lot of times and we’d lost three or four guys. They’d move up to the big leagues. It just happens.

“If you get down, people around you are going to get down. I can’t let it bother me. I was as sick as anybody else when Chuck went down. But we’ve got to move ahead. We’ve got to move ahead.

“If everything works out great, at the end of October we might have Chuck Finley back pitching for us.”

The implication, of course, that the Angels would be playing in the World Series. Now that’s optimism.

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For now, in the midst of the reality of a pennant race, it might be better to stick to more tangible fantasies, like handing the ball to Ken Hill once or twice a week, and looking up at the scoreboard three hours later with a victory in hand.


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