Matt Palmer is moving south again.
One of the best guys and teammates ever to pull on an Angels uniform, Palmer is San Diego bound, having signed a Minor League deal with Buddy Black’s Padres. Anyone who has spent two minutes with Palmer is pulling for him to crack Black’s staff in any of a number of roles he can perform.
After starting his career in San Francisco, Palmer came to the Angels in 2009, unheralded and hardly noticed, and became a valued member of a great team. Palmer went 11-2 with a 3.93 ERA, winning his first six starts as an emergency replacement at a time when the Angels were treading water. They went on to win 97 games with Palmer moving back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, always happy to do whatever Mike Scioscia needed.
The past two seasons haven’t been as kind to the man from Missouri, injuries keeping him down, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him putting hitters away at PETCO Park this season.
If it works out, it could not happen to a better guy.
— Lyle Spencer
The Brewers chose wisely. Ron Roenicke has the intelligence, background and inner strength to be a successful Major League manager. Given the right personnel resources, he’ll give Milwaukee fans a lot to cheer about, no doubt modeling his club in the image of the Angels at their best.
Roenicke’s philosophies mirror most of Mike Scioscia’s, but Roenicke is his own man. He will not be a Scioscia clone. When Scioscia, needing to replace Joe Maddon as his right-hand man with Maddon’s departure for Tampa Bay, asked Roenicke if he was interested, Roenicke’s response was telling.
“Sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to be a `yes’ man. I’ll tell you what I think.”
To which Scioscia replied, “Fine. That’s what I want.”
Their 2010 pratfall notwithstanding, it has been an era of excellence for the Angels. They have done things right. The past two years have been marred by a terrible tragedy (the death of Nick Adenhart) and the season-turning loss of Kendry Morales. But the Angels retain a lot of quality talent, and it was interesting how Rangers GM Jon Daniels responded on Monday a few hours before Texas was beaten in Game 5 of the World Series, touching off a wild San Francisco celebration.
Asked something to the effect about the Rangers now being in position to take over American League West control from the Angels, Daniels was deferential. He referred to the Angels’ 197 combined victories in 2008 and 2009 and pointed out that Texas “needs to get better.” His point was obvious: Daniels expects the Angels to come back with a vengeance in 2011.
Roenicke was a big part in those five division titles in six seasons. He has been Scioscia’s sounding board, and he has worked diligently with the outfielders, helping them refine skills and position themselves correctly.
Scioscia is as happy for Roenicke as he was when Maddon left to manage the Rays and pitching coach Buddy Black departed to handle the Padres’ reins. Their successes could not have hurt Roenicke’s chances, along with the endorsement of Scioscia, one of the game’s most respected voices.
So, now Ron Roenicke climbs into the hot seat. A challenging new life opens up for him. My sense is he’s about as prepared as a guy can be. On several occasions in recent seasons Roenicke has filled in during brief breaks by Scioscia to attend to family matters, and his command of the club in those circumstances has been impressive.
He’s also an insightful and articulate pregame and postgame interview, which will hearten my media friends in Milwaukee. Roenicke knows how to handle himself. The Brewers, it says here, are in good hands. – Lyle Spencer
This has been a distressing week, and I’m not talking about the Angels’ struggles to score runs and stop clubs from abusing their pitching staff.
Two giants of the game, Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts, have passed away in the past two days. They lived a combined 175 years and made wonderful use of their time on the planet, enriching countless lives in countless ways. They were among the very best the sport had to offer.
Stunning news arrived earlier in the week in the form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma having invaded the body of Dave Roberts, who also has enriched the game in ways both small and large. Roberts, smart, intuitive, irrepressibly upbeat, is meeting this challenge head-on, committed to overcoming this obstacle and living a long, rich life, just as Harwell and Roberts did.
If there is any justice, Roberts will be alive into his 80s, making people laugh and feel good about themselves, like those two gentlemen.
I came to know “Doc,” as we called him, during the two seasons he played for the Padres and I covered them on a daily basis for MLB.com. He was what we call in the business a “go-to guy,” much like Torii Hunter is with the Angels. In hard times, when players are disinclined to talk about their team’s troubles and their own, there hopefully are those who can be counted on to offer insights no matter how dire the straits.
Dave Roberts, with the Padres and the other teams he graced, was one of those athletes, just as Hunter is a magnet for Angels beat writers.
In 2005, Roberts was coming off his triumph in Boston, when he stole a base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that triggered one of the greatest comebacks – and stories – in the game’s history. Roberts is a part of New England lore for his lore in exorcising those Bambino curses and ghost.
Coming home to San Diego, Roberts led off and played center field in 2005 for a club that made the postseason, getting swept by the Cardinals. He played the game with passion and intelligence. One thing nagged at him: his reputation for being fragile. We collaborated on several articles that knocked down this widely-held perception.
Athletes given to hurling themselves into the game, as Roberts did and Hunter does, put themselves in harm’s way. It has nothing to do with being injury-prone. It’s simply the by-product of playing full-tilt, with abandon.
In ’06, Roberts moved over to left to accommodate the arrival of Mike Cameron, a man Hunter considers one of the three premier defensive center fielders of the generation. In right was Brian Giles, completing a wonderfully productive outfield.
There was one horrific moment involving Roberts that season that seemed to characterize his career. Pursuing a fly ball at Angel Stadium, he rammed his right knee into the base of the fence in left field chasing what turned out to be an inside-the-park homer by Dallas McPherson.
“The only way for him to stop his momentum is to slide — and he smoked his knee good,” Giles said. “That’s the way Doc approaches it. Hopefully, it’s a bruised kneecap and he’ll be out a few days.”
Roberts — a star quarterback in high school who could have been a defensive back at UCLA but focused instead on baseball – soon was back in his leadoff role, creating havoc. He stole a career-high 49 bases in 55 attempts in ’06 and would have exceeded 50 if not for that incident in Anaheim. In 129 games, he scored 80 runs, another career best.
The Padres were a joy to cover. With Mike Piazza behind the plate, Adrian Gonzalez emerging at first base, Khalil Greene and Josh Barfield looking like future stars in the middle of the infield, and Jake Peavy, Chris Young and the great Trevor Hoffman anchoring the pitching staff, this was a good team, seemingly on the verge of even better things.
They won the NL West again, and the Cardinals took them out in four games in the NLDS on their way to a World Series triumph.
Doc moved on to San Francisco in 2007 and ended his career as a Giant – fittingly – in ’08. He did some broadcasting work for the Red Sox last year and was in Spring Training, getting in a uniform and teaching young Padres some tricks in his new role as a club executive, when Hodgkin’s surfaced. Treatments began, and he is telling people he’s optimistic he’ll beat it.
Not surprisingly, he kept working with those young Padres. Their totally unexpected start, bolting out of the gate this season under manager Bud Black, might not be a coincidence.
Good teams and things seem to follow Doc Roberts around. It could be all those good vibes he passes around, without even trying. They don’t make them any better than this guy. – Lyle Spencer
Angels infielder Maicer Izturis was feeling “much better, no problem” on Sunday after experiencing mid-back stiffness on Saturday swinging the bat and leaving the game against the Giants in the third inning. He is expected to play against the White Sox on Monday night in a split-squad game in Goodyear.
Scott Kazmir reported no stiffness – “all good, ready to go” – after unleashing a full-tilt power bullpen on Saturday. “I threw everything, including some good sliders,” he said of his 60-pitch session. “I’m feeling pretty good about my slider.” Kazmir will unload 75-80 pitches on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe and expects to be ready to take his turn first time around the rotation opening week.
Setup man Scot Shields, working consecutive games on Friday and Saturday to gauge his stamina, came away from his scoreless inning against the Giants with no ill effects. He said he is no longer thinking about his left, landing knee, subjected to arthroscopic surgery last June. “I’m good, ready to go,” said Shields, who is scheduled to pitch on Monday at home against the Royals.
Reggie Willits, limited to batting practice with a right hamstring strain, plans to run the bases “later in the day” on Sunday. “His next test,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “will be in the outfield, to see if he’s ready to play.” Willits is the club’s best option in center field behind Torii Hunter but might have to open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Unlike Terry Evans, Willits has Minor League options left.
Ervin Santana starts on Sunday for the first time since banging his right elbow against furniture in his residence here 10 days ago and sustaining a bruised bursa sac. Santana is in the 75- to 80-pitch range and hopes to be ready to take his turn, which comes up third in the season’s opening week behind Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders.
Reliever Jason Bulger, having a superb spring, pitched in a camp game on Saturday, his first back-to-back sessions. He looks ready to roll. – Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. — Angels infielder Maicer Izturis left Saturday’s game against the Giants at Tempe Diablo Stadium with stiffness in his back during his only at-bat, grounding into a double play in the second inning.
“He felt a little stiffness in his back, mid-back, on one of his swings,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said following a 4-3 victory. “He’s fine. It was a precaution. I don’t think it’s going to be more than a couple days. He might feel good tomorrow. He might be ready when we have our split-squad [games on Monday].”
Izturis, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal this winter, is having a strong spring, hitting .351 in 37 at-bats. He provides quality support at third base, shortstop and second base, where he was stationed on Saturday with Howard Kendrick getting a day off.
Angels starter Joe Saunders “felt good, real good” about his 4 1/3 innings, yielding three earned runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out six men, including three in a row after loading the bases with singles in the fourth.
“When the heat’s on like that,” Saunders said, “you can treat it like a Spring Training game or say, `Hey, let’s get out of this and minimize damage.’ I tried to get ahead of guys and threw a little bit of everything.
“In the fifth, I fell behind a couple guys and threw a two-seamer to [Bengie] Molina. He got extended and dropped the barrel on it. I fell behind 1-0 and had to come with a strike. He’s a good hitter.”
Molina rocketed a three-run double after two walks and a single to give the Giants the lead, but the Angels rallied for two in the sixth against Barry Zito. Erick Aybar, who has reached base safely eight of his past 12 plate appearances, walked and scored on Torii Hunter’s double, Hunter scoring on Hideki Matsui’s RBI single. Aybar had singled in front of Bobby Abreu’s homer in the third to right center, Abreu’s second of the spring.
Scioscia liked the offensive continuity and Saunders’ work – until he lost command in the fifth. The lefty went to the bullpen to finish his work.
There were several positive developments with the pitching staff. Scott Kazmir, saying he was “completely over” left shoulder stiffness that took him out of his most recent start, threw a 60-pitch power bullpen and is set to go on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe.
The bullpen excelled after Saunders’ departure, starting with young right-hander Bobby Cassevah. He induced a double-play grounder to end the fifth and worked a perfect sixth. Kevin Jepsen, Scot Shields (working his second day in a row) and Fernando Rodney each delivered scoreless innings, Rodney closing it out by striking out two of the three men he faced in the ninth. – Lyle Spencer
The Angels have Jered Weaver pitching six innings in a camp game against the Athletics today to get him in a more controlled environment. He can continue to work on his two-seam fastball and cutter while bringing his pitch count up into the 90 range.
Taking Weaver’s place in Scottsdale against reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is Trevor Reckling, the Angels’ 20-year-old lefty from New Jersey. Reckling has impressed with his poise and command as well as his premium stuff.
“He has the whole package,” catcher Bobby Wilson said. “It’s just a matter of getting command of everything. He’s very confident in his fastball, breaking ball and change and can throw them in any count.”
With Scott Kazmir rebounding from shoulder tightness and Ervin Santana set to test his bruised right bursa sac (funny bone) on Sunday, the Angels are hoping to have all five starters ready to go in the opening week.
If any of the five is set back, Matt Palmer gets first call, followed by Sean O’Sullivan. But Reckling isn’t far removed from contention. He showed his poise in pitching out of trouble in the first against the Giants, getting ground-ball outs from Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff to leave Aaron Rowand stranded at third with one out after his leadoff double.
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.
Hitting 94 mph on the radar gun and the catcher’s target with regularity, Kelvim Escobar took another step on Saturday toward a return to the Angels’ rotation.
Throwing against Giants Double-A hitters in a camp game in Scottsdale, Escobar retired the first 10 hitters he faced before walking the final man. He finished with two strikeouts, throwing a total of 40 pitches. The Giants didn’t hit a ball out of the infield.
Escobar threw 24 strikes, hitting 91-93 mph regularly. He also made an athletic defensive play on a high chopper.
“I felt good,” Escobar said. “I think it was better today than the last time – location was
good, breaking stuff was better. I was more under control. Today, I was focused more on hitting my spots. The other day I think I was too excited.
“I was mixing my pitches, throwing two-seamers. I wanted to get better feel for my breaking pitches and my two-seamer. I told my catcher (Bobby Wilson) before the game I wanted to work on my breaking pitches.”
The shoulder, he said, “feels good.” He said he thinks he’s going to pitch against the Padres next, possibly in San Diego on Friday.
“I think it’d be good for me if I get to face big-league hitters and the
environment – the stadium, the lights and everything,” he said.” Playing with my
teammates again – it’ll be exciting.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher alluded to Escobar’s “steady progression,” praising the “sharpness of his pitches and the movement on his breaking pitches.
“I think right now the value for him is just getting healthy, getting out
there and pitching,” Butcher said. “He looked pretty sharp today. It’s very impressive what he’s doing.”