March 2011

Roster squeeze not so tight after all

TEMPE, Ariz. – If the Angels open the season with Joel Pineiro joining Kendrys Morales, Scott Downs and Reggie Willits on a crowded disabled list, they won’t have as many difficult roster decisions to make as originally projected.

There will be room for Brandon Wood and Mark Trumbo, for Chris Pettit and Hank Conger, for Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger. All had been considered possible Opening Day discards.

Thompson, Bulger, Wood and Bobby Wilson are all out of Minor League options and must be on the 25-man roster or disabled list to avoid being subjected to waivers.

With three off days surrounding the first 12 games of the season, the club can get by with four starting pitchers. This gives Pineiro the opportunity to fully recover from a muscle issue in his back by recovering at his own speed in camp.

Willits has been slowed by a left calf strain, clearing the way for Pettit to show he’s capable of being a quality backup outfielder with his slashing hitting style.

Wood’s has the ability to play three infield positions well and bring the threat of thunder off the bench along with depth at third with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo.

Trumbo will open at first base in Morales’ absence. Coverage there will come from Howard Kendrick, Wood and Wilson, who figures to open as Jeff Mathis’ backup behind the plate.

Thompson and Bulger provide middle relief support in the early going. When Downs returns, his left big toe mended, and a decision will have to be made, assuming Pineiro already has returned to the rotation.

If Conger is dispatched to Triple-A Salt Lake, it will be with the specific purpose of keeping him sharp catching regularly. He has the ability to be a switch-hitting weapon off the bench, but that doesn’t come into play in the American League as much in the National League.

Sure-handed shortstop Andrew Romine is a candidate to break camp with the club if Conger is sent to Salt Lake.

Reliever Kevin Jepsen, who felt tightness in his left hip while warming up on a cold, rainy Monday in Tempe, was feeling better on Wednesday and expects to be back in game conditions as early as Thursday. – Lyle Spencer

Make it Kendrys Morales

On further review, make it Kendrys Morales.

Known as Kendry Morales since signing with the Angels as a Cuban exile in 2004, Morales has let it be known that his given name is actually Kendrys. That is how it appears in the Angels’ press guide, and that’s what he prefers to be called.

His full name is Kendrys Morales Rodriguez.

Morales, fifth in the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player balloting, is rebounding from surgery on his lower left leg and hopes to be ready by Opening Day on March 31 in Kansas City. He has been hitting regularly and taking fielding practice but has not yet run full speed.

He fractured the leg on May 29 leaping on home plate after a game-winning grand slam against the Mariners at Angel Stadium. – Lyle Spencer

Garret: pure class, to the end

Garret Anderson’s retirement has inspired some moving, perceptive tributes from folks on this site, and that is very nice to see.

Too often, it seemed the public paid not nearly enough attention to what this remarkable yet undervalued athlete was doing.

When I came to cover the Angels for MLB.com in 2007, one of the items at the top of my priority list was to get to know the superb left fielder who’d spent most of his career in the shadows, for reasons that escaped me entirely.

It was the first road trip of the season, and we were rerouted to Milwaukee by a snowstorm that had buried Cleveland. I asked if he could set aside some time before a game there for a talk, and he said, “Sure. Get here a little early tomorrow and we’ll get to know each other.”

I arrived on time, for a change, and settled into an unoccupied locker next to his. He sat down, leaned back and we talked . . . and talked . . . and talked.

About an hour later, I walked away thinking this was one of the brightest, most intuitive, most interesting athletes I’d met in a long time.

And I had no idea, still, why he’d remained such a mystery man to the public all those years.

As the days and weeks past, I came to develop an appreciation of Anderson and an understanding of his low profile in spite of all his career accomplishments. It was his choice. He had no interest in being a public figure.

What he cared about was being a solid professional and a good dad and husband. Everything else was secondary.

If it wasn’t important to him to have people know him, applaud him, understand him, there was nothing wrong in that. Unfortunately, there was an assumption that he didn’t care enough, because he didn’t play the game like Pete Rose.

This is not uncommon among graceful, smooth, relaxed athletes. It was one of the reasons why Hank Aaron never gained the acclaim of Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Aaron was too cool, too relaxed. He made it look too easy.

A great player in his prime and a very good one the rest of the time, Garret Anderson was like that.

So was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an athlete I’d spent time with years ago.

There was an inner calm and confidence in the Garret Anderson I came to know, and it was that Garret Anderson who gracefully, in his fashion, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

I spent many hours in his company in clubhouses across America over two seasons, killing time, telling stories. Most of our conversations drifted toward the NBA, a shared passion. He was a superb all-around athlete, recruited by Division I schools to play basketball out of Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, but he chose baseball and the Angels. Smart guy, Garret.

He loved to hear tales about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80s, a team I traveled with and wrote about for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He couldn’t hear enough about Magic and Kareem, Big Game James and McAdoo, Coop and Nixon and Byron and the rest.

It occurred to me during our conversations how similar Garret was to Kareem: bright and inquisitive yet introverted. Intimidating to some, because he seemed inaccessible, Anderson never was interested in self-promotion yet always was interested in subjects beyond the scope of his professional life.

He was, and is, a healthy, happy person, a man who laughs easily and often, in private, and loves his family. Now they have him full time, and that’s clearly the way he wants it. – Lyle Spencer

 

 
  

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