Ask Mike Scioscia if he’s pondering his playoff rotation, and he’ll give you a look he used to reserve for pitchers who threw at his head.
This is a man who simply won’t discuss October baseball until the Angels have reduced their magic number to zero.
That leaves it to those of us in the business of speculation to, well, speculate. If the playoffs were to begin tomorrow – a lovely thought, actually – the Angels would be welcoming the Red Sox to Angel Stadium, a modern facility with all the amenities not found in the creepy-crawly visiting clubhouse at storied Fenway Park.
After careful evaluation of performances from the recent past and very recent past, here is how your correspondent would anticipate the Angels’ starters shaping up for Games 1 and 2: John Lackey and Jered Weaver.
Lackey, the acknowledged ace and staff leader, also has been on a very nice second half roll. He has been the Game 1 starter the past two seasons against Boston, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be matched up against Josh Beckett again, as in 2007, or Jon Lester, as in 2008.
Weaver has earned the Game 2 start as the club’s most durable starter all year, and he has done his best work at home.
As for Game 3, the nod here goes to the new guy, Scott Kazmir. He has pitched effectively in Fenway Park over the years, and there’s just something about the guy that makes you feel he’ll be on top of his game when it counts most. He’s an athlete, an old Texas football player, and his stuff – always good – figures to elevate a notch with October adrenaline.
The big question, then, is deciding between Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana for Game 4 in Boston. Both have had quality games there, but Saunders, overall, has been the more effective of the two in Fenway Park.
Saunders gets the call for that reason, and also because Santana has fared well in October relief assignments. He prefers to start, but he’s also smart enough to know he’s in some high-caliber company here, and it’s no insult to be dispatched to the bullpen in favor of a man with Saunders’ tools and attitude.
So, there you have it. Scioscia will not be happy when he sees this – I’m sure I’ve violated some sort of code of ethics in doing this. But it’s something that is on a lot of fans’ minds at the moment, and a guy trying to make a living in hard times has to do what he can to please the customer.
The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.
The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.
The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.
Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.
Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.
The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.
The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.
The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.
The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.
When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.
This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.
It wasn’t all gloom and despair in the Angels’ dugout before Monday night’s game against the Giants with Kelvim Escobar going to the DL and Ervin Santana having his start on Tuesday night pushed back because of shoulder discomfort.
Vladimir Guerrero, who can light up any room with his smile, was beaming as he signed autographs before taking batting practice.
The big bopper started his throwing program on Monday — small steps, but important ones — and you just know he can’t wait to get back on the field.
“It felt good,” Vlad said through that luminous smile. “It’s a start, right?”
We have these conversations where I speak Spanish and he speaks English, and they can be immensely enjoyable to both of us. When he bounded into the dugout with Maicer Izturis and Kendry Morales and I said, in Spanish, “three handsome Latino ballplayers,” he laughed and said, “No, two.”
I have a pretty good idea which of the three he wasn’t calling handsome, but I’m not saying. It wouldn’t be good for club harmony.
If the Angels and Mariners are getting a little tired of seeing each other, you can’t really blame them. When they’re done this weekend, they will have faced off 13 times — more than 25 percent of each other’s schedule.
This is a trifle strange, given that the Angels haven’t even seen two American League teams — the Rays and Indians — and have encountered AL West leader Texas for only three games, while playing AL East power Boston six games, all in Anaheim.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been pleading for a more balanced schedule for a long time. All he can do is shake his head and, as he put it, “play the team they put in front of us.”
The Angels and Mariners have split their 10 games. After dominating the division last season, the reigning champions are 8-10 within the AL West.
“I think we’re beating a dead horse,” Scioscia said when the subject came up on Friday night. “But trying to get a little balance to the schedule and keeping Interleague Play is a daunting task.
“You should definitely see your division [rivals] early, middle and late. It doesn’t seem to work that way. When you’re playing your division in April, the middle of the season and at the end, no team can get too far ahead. You’ve got to earn it.”
The Angels will face reinging AL champion Tampa Bay on the upcoming road trip, the final leg of a nine-game journey that starts in Toronto and moves on to Detroit, where Kelvim Escobar figures to make his long-awaited comeback start next weekend.
Potentially, if all five remain sound, the Angels could have the deepest rotation in the game. John Lackey, Escobar, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver would be hard to match.
Escobar means more to this team beyond what he provides every fifth day. He’s a clubhouse force with his engaging personality and mental toughness. Santana, in particular, has benefited immensely from lockering next to the man from Venezuela.
There will be no immediate relief for Angels ace John Lackey after his two-pitch nightmare on Saturday. The only thing manager Mike Scioscia was sure about on Sunday was his big ace wouldn’t be in the bullpen before he makes his next start.
When that start will be is the question Scioscia refrained from answering, mainly because he doesn’t know yet how quickly and how well Lackey’s arm will respond.
“We’ll probably fold him in earlier [than scheduled on Thursday in Seattle],” Scioscia said “It could tomorrow, the next day. We’ll see how he feels.”
Matt Palmer is scheduled to start the first of four games against the Mariners on Monday night. If Lackey gets the call, Palmer, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders each would be pushed back a day.
Lackey on Saturday said he’d volunteer to go to the bullpen if asked, but Scioscia doesn’t feel his relief staff is taxed to that point. Lackey has made one relief appearance in his career, in 2004.
Lackey said he was “shocked” when he got ejected after two pitches to Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler, the first behind his back, the second in his left side. Lackey said he was having trouble getting his two-seam fastball to reach the inside part of home plate after missing six weeks with his right forearm strain.
It has been obscured lately by the impending returns of John Lackey and Ervin Santana — both could be back in the rotation late next week — but Kelvim Escobar also is making strides in that direction.
Escobar was feeling good on Saturday after enduring a long bullpen session on Friday without a recurrence of the shoulder pain that surfaced after he got a little carried away with his mid-90s heat on April 3 in San Diego.
“I threw 30 pitches, sat down, threw 15 more, sat down, 15 more, sat down, 15 more,” Escobar said, describing his session on Friday at Angel Stadium. “That’s 75. I threw everything and felt good.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher said Escobar looked comfortable and threw well, adding that when you add the eight warmup pitches before each of his 15-pitch simulated innings, Escobar threw a total of 99 pitches.
“I’m going to Arizona on Tuesday,” Escobar said. “I’ll be pitching in a camp game. I’m coming along. I’m not pushing it too hard this time.”
That camp game will be in extended Spring Training, where pitchers can perform under controlled conditions. The Angels are being careful with Escobar. Knowing he can’t come off the 60-day disabled list until June 4, there’s no reason to rush him — especially after he tried to do too much too soon that night at PETCO Park when he thought he was close to ready to get back in the Angels’ rotation.
It’s still a little ways off, but the Angels will have some tough calls to make when Lackey and Santana return to the rotation, to say nothing of Escobar.
Also in the mix is Dustin Moseley, who is a bullpen and a Minor League rehab outing or two away from rejoining the staff. Moseley is 1-0 with a 4.30 ERA in three starts.
Shane Loux and Matt Palmer have delivered handsomely. Loux going 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, Palmer 3-0 with a 3.06 ERA in his three outings.
Like Moseley, Loux and Palmer could go to the bullpen. Loux is out of options, and the Angels would lose him if they removed him from the 25-man roster. Palmer has options left and could be sent to Salt Lake to stay stretched out as a starter.
Anthony Ortega, who is 0-2 with a 9.24 ERA in three starts, figures to be back in Salt Lake soon getting the experience he needs. The club is high on the 23-year-old Venezuelan’s future as a starter.
Another name to keep in mind is lefty Trevor Reckling, who turns 20 in 13 days. The Livingston, N.J., native, an eight-round Draft pick in 2007 out of high school in Newark, Reckling has been sensational this season after opening eyes in Spring Training with his high-octane stuff and poise.
Reckling is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Double-A Arkansas after going 1-2 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Combined, he has 33 strikeouts against 12 walks in 38 innings.
Ervin Santana, rebounding from a sprained right elbow that sidelined him all spring, is set to make the next step toward rejoining the Angels’ rotation.
A 2008 American League All-Star, Santana is set to pitch four innings for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Monday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the goal is to get Santana through four innings and 60 pitches, adding about 15 pitches in ensuing starts until he’s ready to go for the Angels.
John Lackey, a 2007 AL All-Star and league ERA kingpin, is set to make his first rehab start in his recovery from a right forearm strain on Tuesday for Triple-A Salt Lake. Lackey, like Santana, is expected to deliver four innings and about 60 pitches, Scioscia said.
“John looked good” in throwing 45 pitches and three innings in extended Spring Training on Thursday, Scioscia said. “We’re encouraged by how John and Ervin are both progressing. We’ll see where they are after these next outings and go from there.”
Held back by some early-spring right shoulder tightness, Jered Weaver didn’t get through the first inning in his Cactus League debut against the Indians on Wednesday — but he showed no signs of physical discomfort.
Weaver’s issue was with the strike zone. He had trouble finding it. His best pitch was to first base, picking off Jamey Carroll after his leadoff flare fell into right field for a single. Weaver walked David Dellucci on a full count and Travis Hafner hit a bullet over the pitcher’s head — barely — for a single. That might have gotten into Weaver’s head a little, because he went to 3-0 on Victor Martinez before he flied to right. But line drive singles by Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko ended Weaver’s day after 26 pitches.
His line: two-thirds of an inning, four hits, one walk and one earned run — thanks to reliever Ryan Brasier, who retired Josh Barfield to leave the bases loaded.
Weaver was elevated to No. 3 starter before throwing his first pitch with Ervin Santana (sprained right elbow ligament) starting the season on the 15-day disabled list.