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Walbeck Thrown By Slump

Just like hitters who can’t find their stroke and pitchers who can’t find the strike zone, catchers can go into throwing slumps, and Matt Walbeck of the Angels found himself in the middle of a horrendous one last week.

Ranked all season among the top three in the American League in throwing runners out, Walbeck endured a four-game spell in which opponents stole 12 consecutive bases, including five by Toronto on May 14. The streak finally ended when he threw out Oakland’s Jason McDonald on Wednesday night.

Walbeck’s success rate in catching base-stealers dropped from an impressive 45% to 34% in a matter of days, and the catcher’s confidence fell right along with those statistics.

“There are times when you don’t want guys to go, and that’s not good,” Walbeck said. “I was in that mode, where I doubted myself, one game last week against Toronto. . . . At first, it was tough, but you have to move on. I had a good run for a while, but it’s a long season, and these things happen.”

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Baserunners are not solely the catcher’s responsibility, of course. Manager Terry Collins said Angel pitchers have not been holding runners on very well lately, and that hasn’t made Walbeck’s job any easier.

“But I could have thrown two or three guys out with better throws,” Walbeck said. “You can’t blame the pitchers. Sometimes you have to take the blame yourself. It all comes down to timing, footwork, not trying to rush the throw, and not overthrowing. All those things can add up.”

The solution, Walbeck said, is to simplify things.

“You have to try easier,” he said. “You have to catch it and throw it. You can’t try to throw guys out, you have to try to make good throws. It just takes one good throw to snap out of it. Then you get your confidence back.”

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Todd Greene is scheduled to catch three games for triple-A Vancouver between today and Monday, and if all goes well, he could return to Anaheim as early as next weekend.

Greene, who has been on the disabled list since the start of the season because of a shoulder injury, caught twice this week for Vancouver, four innings one game and five the next, but he did not have to make a throw to second base in either game.

“I would say my arm strength is 85% to 90%, but there’s no pain when I’m throwing, and that’s the most important thing,” said Greene, who returned to Anaheim for one day Thursday. “I’m getting real close.”

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Collins said Ken Hill, who threw 148 pitches in Wednesday night’s 5-4 victory over the A’s, was stiff and sore Thursday, but Hill said he’ll be fine with a few days rest.

Chuck Finley’s recent pitch counts have also been high--122 Tuesday night against the A’s, and 134 in his previous start against Toronto--and Collins said that’s cause for concern.

“If you start riding a starter for 145 pitches a night, by August they’ll be shot,” Collins said. “That’s why you have six guys in the bullpen. They have jobs to do.”

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ON DECK

* Opponent--Minnesota Twins, three games.

* Site--Edison Field.

* Tonight--7.

* TV--Fox Sports West Saturday.

* Radio--KRLA (1110), XPRS (1090), KIK-FM (94.3).

* Records--Angels 24-21, Twins 19-26.

* 1997 Record vs. Twins--4-7.

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TONIGHT

ANGELS’ OMAR OLIVARES (1-1, 3.15 ERA) vs. TWINS’ BOB TEWKSBURY (3-6, 3.82 ERA)

* Update--Angel reliever Mike James, on the disabled list since May 8 because of a partial muscle tear in his right forearm, took another step toward returning Thursday when he threw long toss for about 10 minutes. James will take today off and throw off the mound Saturday for the first time since the injury.

* Saturday, 7 p.m.--Allen Watson (3-4, 7.17) vs. LaTroy Hawkins (2-4, 5.26).

* Sunday, 5 p.m.--Chuck Finley (4-1, 2.56) vs. Brad Radke (5-3, 3.18).

Tickets--(714) 634-2000.


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