Fernando Valenzuela's debut for the California Angels will be accompanied by great hoopla _ and questions about his ability to win games. Valenzuela, released by the Los Angeles Dodgers last March 28 after a mediocre 1990 season and an even worse spring training, is scheduled to start for the Angels tonight against Detroit.
The announcement Valenzuela would pitch already has had an impact _ ticket sales for the game have skyrocketed.
That's despite the fact the Lakers entertain the Bulls in the NBA Finals in Inglewood, about 40 miles away, tonight.
While Valenzuela's impact at the gate promises to be significant, his impact on the Angels' won-lost record remains to be seen.
Angels manager Doug Rader said that, even if Valenzuela loses as many games as he wins, it will be a big plus for the team.
But he won't have to be a world-beater to be an improvement over the pitcher he's replacing _ rookie Scott Lewis was 1-5 with a 6.80 ERA and was sent to the minors.
The former Dodgers ace, who will be the fourth left-hander in the California rotation, pitched well during three minor-league tuneups after signing with the Angels on May 20, working 17 innings without giving up an earned run.
"I don't think pitching any more minor-league games would have helped," said Valenzuela. "Everything's working fine."
Belle sent to minors
CLEVELAND _ Cleveland sent controversial outfielder Albert Belle to the minors Thursday night after he failed to run hard on a double-play grounder during a 2-1 loss to Chicago.
Belle is awaiting a hearing on his appeal of a seven-day suspension for intentionally hitting a heckling fan with a baseball on May 11. That incident, however, was only one of many that caused him to lose favor with the Indians' front office.
Belle leads the Indians with nine home runs and 27 RBI.
"I have gone to the wall with that man," manager John McNamara said. "We have talked to him and talked to him. It doesn't take any talent to hustle. All we asked of him was to hustle and run balls out. This was the last straw."
The "last straw" was Belle's loafing on his eighth-inning grounder Thursday. With the score tied 1-1, Cleveland had runners at first and second when Belle hit a grounder to third. Third baseman Craig Grebeck tagged third, but his throw to first pulled Robin Ventura off the bag.
Belle, however, was trotting, giving Ventura time to tag him out.
"Tonight was the most flagrant example of not running out a ground ball I've ever seen at the major-league level," McNamara said. "He not only embarrassed himself. He embarrassed the ballclub, everybody in the organization, by doing that."
Belle walked away without saying a word when asked about the incident and the demotion to Class AAA Colorado Springs.
Orioles to stay put
BALTIMORE _ The Orioles almost certainly will remain in Baltimore until well into the 21st century, even if principal owner Eli Jacobs sells the team in order to afford himself a bit of rest and relaxation.
Jacobs, who owns 87 percent of the Orioles, said Thursday he has authorized his investment banker, J.P. Morgan, to evaluate the market and assess interested buyers. Jacobs stressed he will sell the Orioles only to a buyer who will keep the team in Baltimore. Also, the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the building of a $105-million stadium for the Orioles, said the team's lease binds it to the new ballpark until at least 2007.
Morgan files suit
OAKLAND, Calif. _ Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against Crystal Geyser Water Co., claiming the company's cancellation of his distribution contract was racially motivated.
Morgan, who is black, said in his suit that Crystal Geyser abruptly terminated its contract with Joe Morgan Beverage Co. on March 15. Attached to the suit as an exhibit is a memo allegedly issued by the Calistoga-based company referring to the high percentage of white residents in Morgan's distribution area.
The suit, filed last week, alleges breach of contract and a violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides for triple damages if the defendant is found guilty.
Paul Wagner, spokesman for Crystal Geyser, denied the allegation race played a role in cancellation of Morgan's contract. Morgan's firm was fired because its sales were poor, lagging nearly 50 percent below the sales of other distributors in similar areas, Wagner said.
Around the bases
The Baltimore Orioles recalled third baseman Leo Gomez from Class AAA Rochester on Thursday and put utility man Jeff McKnight on the 15-day disabled list. In another development, manager Johnny Oates said first baseman Glenn Davis has started hitting from a tee and could be ready to take batting practice next week.
Texas activated catcher John Russell and designated pitcher Eric Nolte for assignment. Russell had been on the disabled list since May 4 with soreness in his elbow. He had one hit in eight at-bats for the Rangers in four games this season.
A memorial service was scheduled Thursday in Jensen Beach for Orel Leonard Hershiser, grandfather of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher. The eldest Hershiser died Monday in Salerno Bay Manor. He was 86.
Seattle placed Ken Griffey Sr. on the 15-day disabled list because of back spasms, retroactive to June 1. Right-handed pitcher Dave Burba was called up from Class AAA Calgary to replace Griffey.
_ Compiled from wire reports.