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Abbott hit hard again this spring

March 17, 1997

The end of Jim Abbott’s baseball career might be coming soon. One of baseball’s nicest guys has some of the sport’s worst stats.

After four spring training appearances, he’s pitching even worse than last year, when he went 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA, leading the major leagues in losses.

``Today was Jim’s worst outing,″ Angels manager Terry Collins said Sunday after Abbott was pounded for eight runs in 2 1-3 innings against the Oakland Athletics. ``Hopefully, he can regroup. He threw the ball great in the first inning, but I don’t know what happened after that.″

Abbott probably will get just three more outings before the end of spring training. He’s 1-1 with a 13.11 ERA, allowing 17 runs and 22 hits in 11 2-3 innings. Batters are 25-for-56 against him, a .393 average.

He knew coming in that he’d have to show Anaheim he had regained his command.

``I don’t feel any carryover from last year when I’m on the mound. I know the results have to be there,″ Abbott said earlier this spring. ``It has to happen quickly because of last year. Is it there or is it not?″

Many fans are pulling for the 29-year-old left-hander, yelling encouragement from the stands during spring games at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Arizona. He’s always been charismatic, drawing attention since he first came up.

Succeeding despite not having a right hand has made him inspirational to many. He even pitched a no-hitter for the New York Yankees against Cleveland in 1993.

But his velocity disappeared last season. And the winter was filled with pressure. Abbott and his wife, Dana, had their first child, Madeleine Destiny, born early on Dec. 15. Would his birth defect be passed on?

``I was scared to death,″ he told the Los Angeles Times before spring training.

His worst fears were not realized.

``She’s perfect. Just perfect,″ Abbott said, admitting to the Times that he counted all her fingers and toes as she was born.

Now, there’s a different kind of pressure. It’s only baseball, but it is his career.

``Coming off a season like last year, it’s up to me to prove I can come back from that,″ he said. ``The results have to be there for me. I have to understand that, keep that in my mind.″

He worked all winter in the gym. He says he can feel a difference in his velocity.

``There were difficulties last spring,″ he said. ``I didn’t feel as good. To me, putting yourself in position to throw the ball with life is important, but aggressiveness in the strike zone is just as important. I do feel it’s better than it was last year.″

Abbott was sent down to Triple-A Vancouver for four games last season in an attempt to let him find his form. He had mixed results, going 0-2 with a 3.41 ERA.

He’s experimented with dropping sidearm a little on his delivery. The way he’s been hit this spring, its unclear if he can make the Angels’ rotation. Mark Gubicza, Allen Watson, Jayson Dickson, Shigetoshi Hasegawa all may have an edge, although Saturday’s freak batting practice injury to staff ace Chuck Finley might delay a final decision on Abbott until the season is several weeks old.

``There is competition for the jobs that are available,″ Abbott admitted. ``I’m putting my heart and soul into it _ just like I did last year.″

What would he do if the Angels cut him? He’s guaranteed $2.6 million this season and $3 million in 1998. Would he walk away and tell the Angels to keep their money? Would he try to find another team?

He’s not looking that far ahead.

``Nobody wants to keep losing,″ he said after his second spring start. ``Results will speak for themselves.″

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