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[0] ANGELS LACK SPARKS IN LOSS : TAMPA BAY 8 ANGELS 1.

Byline: Joe Haakenson San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The Angels could not believe their good fortune as they sailed through June, carried in large part by a starting rotation that included two journeymen and a rookie.

The journeymen, Steve Sparks and Omar Olivares, and the rookie, Jarrod Washburn, were a combined 12-3 when July began. Since then, the baseball gods determined there is a limit on such luck.

The three have combined to go 0-7 this month, which includes Sparks' worst outing of the season in Thursday night's 8-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 24,015 at Edison Field.

Sparks, who lasted only one-plus inning, gave up five runs and three hits. His biggest problem was that he couldn't find the plate with his knuckleball - he walked five, matching a season-high.

Normally against the last-place Devil Rays, a comeback might be possible. But the Rays had 29-year-old rookie Rolando Arrojo on the mound.

Arrojo, who defected from Cuba two years ago, gave up one run and three hits in seven innings, improving to 11-6.

Despite the loss, the Angels remained 1-1/2 games ahead of second-place Texas in the American League West. Oakland, however, moved to within seven games of the Angels.

Sparks (3-2) lost his previous start on July 11, but he could be forgiven. He gave up only two runs and four hits in 6-1/3 innings to Seattle but lost to Randy Johnson 2-0.

He had no such excuse on Thursday.

The Devil Rays went into the game ranked last in the American League in team batting average and last in the majors in runs. All one really needs to know about the Rays' offense is that their cleanup hitter Thursday was Dave Martinez (.253, seven homers, 35 RBI going into the game). The Rays haven't scored more than eight runs in a game since April 23.

But Sparks' knuckleball stayed out of the strike zone and the Rays didn't have to swing much to score. He made 57 pitches and the Rays swung at only 14.

One of those was Aaron Ledesma's two-run single in a five-run first inning. Quinton McCracken also drove in a run with a single in the first.

The other two runs came in on bases-loaded walks to Paul Sorrento and Miguel Cairo.

The problem was that Sparks actually had too much movement on his knuckler.

``I know a few of them were moving pretty well,'' Sparks said. ``I just didn't get it in the strike zone. I usually try to aim for the catcher's mask, and it drops in the strike zone. But it's a very mechanical pitch. If your arm slot's off, you have trouble getting it in the area code.''

Because Sparks made so few pitches Thursday, he'll be on call in the bullpen tonight if needed. But manager Terry Collins is not planning on taking Sparks out of the rotation.

``We've seen too much consistency to do that,'' Collins said. ``It just so happens he didn't have it tonight.''

Allen Watson, who figures to replace one of the three in the rotation soon, relieved Sparks and pitched well. He gave up one run, an RBI single by Ledesma, and five hits in four innings.

Despite falling behind 5-0 after the first inning, the Angels had a chance to get back into it. Singles by Garret Anderson and Phil Nevin, and an error by Ledesma at shortstop resulted in one run for the Angels in the second inning.

But Arrojo worked out of a jam in the third and retired 12 hitters in a row during one stretch. The streak was broken with two out in the seventh when Justin Baughman reached on an error by Cairo at second base.

It was the third time the Angels have faced Arrojo this season, and Arrojo has the edge, winning two of three.

``When you let Arrojo have a five-run lead, you're in trouble,'' Collins

said. ``He has such good command with all his different arm angles. But we knew that. To say he had better stuff (than his other two starts vs. the Angels), no. He just knows what to do with it.''

ANGELS vs. BALTIMORE

Time: 7:05 p.m. at Edison Field

TV/Radio: FSW; KRLA-AM (1110), XPRS-AM (1090 Spanish).

Matchups: The Angels' Jason Dickson (9-6, 6.12 ERA) opposes the Orioles' Doug Drabek (5-9, 7.27 ERA). Dickson will not only pitch for the Angels tonight, but also for a top Chicago White Sox scout. The Angels and White Sox are rumored to be talking about a trade that would send Dickson and possibly third baseman Dave Hollins to Chicago for White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura. Baltimore comes in with an eight-game winning streak. ``Everybody in baseball knew that wasn't going to last,'' Angels manager Terry Collins said of the Orioles' slow start. ``They're too good a team to play like that.''

- Joe Haakenson

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Box: ANGELS vs. BALTIMORE (See Text)
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 17, 1998
Words:829
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