Angels not well-armed to open title defense

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

March 16, 2003|By PETER SCHMUCK

If the Anaheim Angels are going to make a serious effort to defend their unlikely 2002 world championship, they're going to have to get their pitching staff healthy in a hurry.

Scheduled Opening Day pitcher Jarrod Washburn is nursing a sprained left shoulder and probably won't be ready to start the season on time. Veteran Aaron Sele isn't due back from shoulder surgery until May, and fifth starter candidate Matt Wise came up with a sore elbow last week.

The Angels enter the final two weeks of spring training with just three of the starting pitchers - Kevin Appier, John Lackey and Ramon Ortiz - who originally were projected to be in the 2003 rotation. Manager Mike Scioscia might be forced to bring long reliever Scott Schoeneweis back into the mix, but he has not been impressive this spring.

Of course, the Angels had to scramble for pitching all the way to the world title last year, so they may have reason to believe their organizational pitching depth will carry them past this temporary crisis.

Promising Mickey Callaway and Chris Bootcheck now are real candidates to open the season in the major-league rotation. If one of them can buy the club some time to get Washburn back, the Angels should be very competitive in the American League West.

They won't be the division favorites, not as long as the Oakland Athletics can trot out three of the best starting pitchers in the game, but they will be positioned well for at least a wild-card run if the pitching situation does not deteriorate further.

Steroid statement

It was a futile gesture, but the 16 Chicago White Sox players who considered boycotting their steroid survey tests deserve to be applauded for taking a stand against baseball's softball steroid program.

The players figured - correctly - that stiffing the tests would increase the likelihood of random testing next year, since anyone failing to appear for a test is counted under the new program as testing positive.

For a random testing program to go into effect next year, 5 percent of the survey tests must come back positive in 2003. That works out to about 60 players, so the boycott would have been a significant step in that direction.

The players were talked out of the plan by union officials. The plan got a mixed reaction in other clubhouses. Some players believed it was a principled stand against a form of drug abuse that is tainting the reputations of innocent players. Others believed that it could be viewed as a veiled attempt by some players to avoid the tests for other reasons.

"They don't need to do that," said Colorado Rockies player representative Todd Jones. "It's going to be over 5 percent unless everybody in the game suddenly cleaned up."

Chasing Mota

New York Mets star Mike Piazza chased Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Guillermo Mota all over the field at Thomas White Stadium on Wednesday night, then he went searching for him in the visitors clubhouse.

The brawl that broke out after Mota plunked Piazza with a pitch was probably the most replayed highlight of the week, but what wasn't as well-documented was Piazza's attempt to gain revenge against Mota both in the parking lot and in the Dodgers clubhouse.

The incident even created tension between the Dodgers' and Mets' front offices, the Dodgers upset because there wasn't sufficient security at the Mets' training facility to keep Piazza from invading the Dodgers clubhouse.

"I was a little surprised when Mike came into the clubhouse," general manager Dan Evans said. "[I was] disappointed, and I'll leave it at that. I was very disturbed that the security was so poor at Port St. Lucie that an opposing player was inside our clubhouse."

The Mets apparently felt that Piazza shouldn't have had to go looking for Mota.

"The guy ran like a scared rabbit when the man came out after him," said Mets manager Art Howe. "If he wants to hit somebody, stand there and fight. He can backpedal faster than I can run forward."

Piniella unplugged

Tampa Bay-area baseball fans got an unexpected taste of Lou Piniella's fiery managerial style when a local television station placed an unauthorized microphone near the Devil Rays' dugout during an ugly game against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, Fla.

"This is how you lose 105 games," Piniella shouted at his team in disgust.

Actually, that would be progress, since the Devil Rays lost 106 games last year, but Piniella was embarrassed by the tirade and the front office was quite displeased with WFLA/Channel 8, which forwarded the footage to ESPN.

"That's a cheap shot," said Piniella, who then directed all remaining criticism against himself. "Was it right for me to do that? Absolutely not.

"I'm embarrassed by it, quite frankly. I really am. There's no need for that."

No bargain

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