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Mixed Bag Somehow Manages to Work for the Angels

Pitcher Chuck Finley has been on Angel teams that won the American League West and those that were out of the race by July. He has been on teams that contended all year before slipping in September, and one that had an 11-game lead in early August and suffered one of baseball’s biggest collapses.

But this team, this 1998 collection of potential All-Stars, minor league call-ups and reclamation projects, he can’t quite figure out.

“What month are we in? What’s our record now?” Finley said, not quite grasping that the Angels were 44-29 and in first place, 2 1/2 games ahead of Texas, entering Monday night’s game against the Dodgers.

“It’s like this team has played on a Ouija Board--one day you see this, the next you see that. If you printed out a list of guys we have on the disabled list and told me to guess our record, I’d say we’d be six games under .500.”

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Especially looking at the current Angel rotation, which consists of Finley, Omar Olivares, who began the season as a long reliever; Jason Dickson, who was demoted to the bullpen in May and nearly sent to triple-A Vancouver; Jarrod Washburn, who was pitching for Class-A Lake Elsinore two summers ago, and knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who missed all of 1998 because of elbow surgery.

Offensively, Darin Erstad has firmly established himself as one of the game’s bright young stars, and Jim Edmonds is having another superb season, but outside of shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who was hitting .315 through Sunday, no one is having a career year.

“That’s why this team is so hard to figure out,” Finley said. “You look at certain teams, and you don’t want to let this guy beat you, or you know it’s going to be tough to beat that pitcher on a certain night.

“But we’ve got Erstad at the top of the order and DiSarcina hitting well at the bottom, Dave Hollins can drop a bunt any time, Jimmy [Edmonds] and Tim [Salmon] are strong in the middle . . . playing this team is like falling into a snake pit--any one of them can bite you.”

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First-year Dodger pitching coach Glenn Gregson acknowledged his head is spinning a bit from all the turmoil surrounding the team in recent weeks.

“If I had scripted how my first year as a pitching coach in the major leagues was going to go,” Gregson said, “there’s no way I would have come up with this scenario.”

Nor would he have scripted the firing of the entire Dodger coaching staff, but Dodger President Bob Graziano made it clear Monday that no one’s job is safe.

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The Dodger staff earned-run average, a sparkling 3.62 in 1997, has slipped to 3.95 this season, acceptable for some teams but not the pitching-rich Dodgers.

Starters Ismael Valdes (5-7, 4.59 ERA entering Monday night) and Chan Ho Park (5-5, 5.36 ERA) have underachieved, and Antonio Osuna never really warmed to the closer’s role.

So, naturally, there is speculation that Gregson could follow Manager Bill Russell and General Manager Fred Claire on Fox’s cutting-room floor.

“I’m going to try to adhere to the same philosophy I preach to my pitchers, that you can’t worry about things you can’t control,” Gregson said. “I’m not looking over my shoulder.

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“I will do for Glenn Hoffman the same thing I did for Bill Russell--go out there and motivate and try to get the pitchers to do the best they can do.”

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Dodger right-hander Ramon Martinez, who missed 10 starts in 1997 because of a partial tear in his rotator cuff, will undergo season-ending surgery for a similar injury next Tuesday. “It was a difficult decision, but I know I have to have it, and I know the consequences,” Martinez said. “I hope everything goes well and I’m ready for next year.”

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Dodger shortstop Jose Vizcaino, who sprained his right ankle while sliding into second base Sunday against Colorado, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday. Wilton Guerrero was recalled from triple-A Albuquerque to replace Vizcaino and started at second Monday night. . . . Dodger trainer Charlie Strasser said second baseman Eric Young, who has missed six games because of a right quadriceps strain, will return sometime during the four-game Angel series. . . . Angel reliever Mike James, on the disabled list since May 5 because of a partial tear of the right flexor muscle, said he will decide around the All-Star break whether to have season-ending elbow surgery. . . . If Angel left-hander Allen Watson (tendinitis in flexor muscle) can throw 90 pitches in his next rehabilitation start, for Vancouver Friday, he will likely return to the Angel rotation next week. . . . The Angels have signed eighth-round pick Jason Hill, a University of California catcher. He will report to the Angels’ short-season Class-A team in Boise, Idaho.

TONIGHT’S PITCHERS

ANGELS’ JARROD WASHBURN

(3-0, 3.33 ERA)

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vs.

DODGERS’ DAVE MLICKI

(3-4, 4.91 ERA)

* Update--Mlicki, acquired with reliever Greg McMichael from the New York Mets for pitchers Hideo Nomo and Brad Clontz, is 2-0 in three starts since the deal, allowing only six earned runs in 20 innings. The right-hander became only the eighth pitcher to throw a shutout in Coors Field when he blanked the Colorado Rockies Thursday night. Before Monday’s game, Angel first baseman Cecil Fielder had only five hits in 37 at-bats and had been frustrated by a steady diet of breaking balls and off-speed pitches. “Sometimes you want to ask the pitcher, ‘Are you going to throw the ball over the plate or are you going to bounce it?’ ” Fielder said. “Every time, it’s a different thing. It’s been hard to find my rhythm.”

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