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AROUND THE AL

ANGELS: LHP Jim Abbott, struggling in his efforts to retain his spot in Anaheim's starting rotation, will stay away from the club for a few days while it evaluates his future. Abbott, who has a 1-2 record and 13.50 ERA in three exhibition starts, will not dress or participate in drills.

Abbott, in the second year of a three-year, $7.8-million contract, had a 2-18 record and 7.48 ERA in 1996 _ worst in the American League in both categories. His totals included a league-high 11-game losing streak from May 7-Aug. 10 and a demotion to the minors for the first time in his career. Even if the team releases him, it would be obligated to pay Abbott $2.6-million in 1997 and $3-million in 1998.

BREWERS: Knuckleballer Steve Sparks left the game against the Mariners with a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow. "It's going to take a couple of days before we know something," manager Phil Garner said. "We hope it's nothing serious."

INDIANS: Five players returned from injury to play the Cardinals. RHP Orel Hershiser pitched six innings upon his return from a strained right groin; SS Omar Vizquel returned from tendinitis; C Sandy Alomar had a pulled muscle in his side; RF Manny Ramirez had a strained right thigh and DH Tony Fernandez had a strained left shoulder.

MARINERS: Manager Lou Piniella will have minor rectal surgery this afternoon at a Phoenix hospital and could miss the final week of spring training. He said he was unsure if he would feel like being with his team in Las Vegas next weekend and might go straight to Seattle from Arizona. RHP Dennis Martinez, a 41-year-old grandfather trying to keep his career alive, didn't do himself any good in his bid to become the No. 5 starter. Martinez (0-1) surrendered four runs on nine hits and two walks in 4 innings. Jose Cruz Jr., hoping to become the Opening Night leftfielder, struck out three times in three at bats.

ORIOLES: SS Cal Ripken, who promises contract negotiations will end once the season starts, is optimistic he can reach an agreement that will keep him with Baltimore through 2000. Ripken, 36, is entering the final season of a five-year, $32.5-million contract. "I absolutely won't let it go past Opening Day," Ripken said. "But I'm very optimistic." RHP Shawn Boskie will occupy the fifth spot in the rotation and could be one of 13 pitchers on the Opening Day roster, manager Davey Johnson said.

RED SOX: Shane Mack singled in his first at-bat in three weeks, then added another while playing incident-free centerfield in Boston's 7-6 loss to Minnesota. "Everything's going to be all right," Mack said of his broken middle finger on his right (throwing) hand, his fingernail still stained by blood. A platoon between Rudy Pemberton, who is nursing a groin strain, and Troy O'Leary in rightfield is likely, manager Jimy Williams said.

_ TIMES WIRES

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