Former Oriole Gonzales gets his second (base) chance with Angels

BASEBALL

May 17, 1992|By PETER SCHMUCK

It is a delicious coincidence. Mark McLemore washes out of the California Angels organization and ends up getting regular playing time at second base in Baltimore. Rene Gonzales never gets a chance to play regularly with the Orioles and ends up as the everyday second baseman in California.

That's right. Gonzo, the consummate utility man, has supplanted promising Bobby Rose in the Angels lineup. He has five home runs and has been one of the club's most productive hitters, entering yesterday with a .333 batting average and an even bigger smile on his face than usual.

That's right. Gonzo, who showed up at almost every defensive position for the Orioles during his three-year career in Baltimore, finally has settled into one in his first year in California. It is a surprise to everyone but him.

"That was always a goal," Gonzales said from Boston, where the Angels wrap up a three-game series today. "I was never content with a utility role, even though that is how I've been labeled."

Keep in mind, however, that this is one of those guys who was no lock to have any kind of major-league role after he closed out the 1991 season with the American League East champion Toronto Blue Jays. He went to spring training with the Angels as a non-roster invitee and has emerged -- like McLemore -- as one of the reasons for his club's surprising start.

The Angels entered yesterday two games over .500 (18-16), even though they had gotten just six victories from the three-man nucleus of the starting rotation. Big offensive performances from Junior Felix, Hubie Brooks and Gonzales have kept them in business until Mark Langston, Jim Abbott and Chuck Finley can get back in stride.

Gonzales is tied with Brooks for the club home run lead. He has been one of the team's most consistent hitters, and Rose has been one of the least. Gonzales is back home in California and having the time of his life.

"I have a lot of family and friends there," he said. "They are really getting a kick out of this."

He considers Baltimore his second home, and he'll be making his first visit later this week, when the Angels arrive for a three-game weekend series at Camden Yards.

"Of course, I'm looking forward to it," he said, "especially with the new ballpark. I have a lot of friends there. Last year when I came back, the fans really made me feel welcome. I look at that place as home, too."

But the place where Gonzales really is feeling at home is the Angels starting lineup. There are varying theories about his new-found success at the plate. Manager Buck Rodgers, for instance, said that he finally has learned how to hit the breaking ball. But Gonzales said that it is just a matter of getting a chance to play regularly.

"Everybody has been looking for some great big answer," he said. "I don't know, but I worked really hard over the winter and I've been getting to play. It's great. I've always felt that if I got a chance to perform, I would get an everyday job. It may have finally happened here.

"I'm not facing batting practice pitches every day. I'm getting good, quality pitches every day and getting confident. With confidence comes good baseball."

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Money Well-Saved Dept.: Remember when first baseman Franklin Stubbs was at the top of the Orioles' free-agent wish list a couple of years ago? Remember how he and a few other free agents kept the 1990 winter meetings in a state of gridlock? Well, Branch Rickey was right. Sometimes the best moves are the ones that are never made.

As it turned out, the Orioles won the bidding war for Stubbs. They didn't get him. Now, the Milwaukee Brewers are trying to figure out what to do about him.

Stubbs batted .213 with 11 home runs in the first year of his three-year, $6.5 million contract. He is doing even worse this season, although Friday's pinch-hit grand slam gave him four homers and 16 RBI to go with his .198 average.

Brewers manager Phil Garner saw what Stubbs could do in Houston, where he hit 23 homers for the Astros in 1990. He thinks the big first baseman is just trying to do too much.

"Nobody has worked harder than Stubby," Garner said recently, "but sometimes you can go at it too much. I think he needs to relax. You can think about it too much."

*

Still more Tigers tribulations: Detroit manager Sparky Anderson finally has seen enough. He has restructured the club's starting rotation at the expense of veteran pitchers Frank Tanana and Walt Terrell.

Third-year right-hander Mark Leiter will get a chance to pitch every fifth day, and don't be surprised if the club begins testing some of its more promising minor-league prospects. They could not do much worse than the four members who have followed Bill Gullickson in the rotation for the first six weeks of the season.

Terrell is 0-4 with a 6.69 ERA. Tanana is 1-3 with a 7.07 ERA. Eric King is 2-3 with a 7.55 ERA, and Scott Aldred entered yesterday's start with an 0-3 record and 7.48 ERA. If there was ever a time to shake things up, this is it.

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