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
NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.
Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.
There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.
Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.
The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.
There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.
The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.
If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer
It’s a good thing Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have a highly evolved relationship – and matching senses of humor, also fully developed.
They share and share alike, the way best friends are supposed to act.
The Angels co-catchers are fully aware of the friction generated by the fact that only one of them can play at a time, given that the designated-hitter role belongs to Vladimir Guerrero.
Most of the anger and resentment from fans come when Napoli and his booming bat are on the bench alongside manager Mike Scioscia, who values Mathis’ athleticism and game-calling ability more highly than fans fixated on raw numbers.
For the record, the Angels are 38-26 when Napoli catches, 36-21 when Mathis calls the shots. The club is 11-5 when Napoli is the DH.
Before Sunday’s series finale at Rogers Centre, Napoli getting the call against southpaw Ricky Romero, the two catchers were having some laughs when the subject of the perceived competition between the two was dropped in their laps by your faithful correspondent.
“I know a lot of people want Mike in there,” Mathis said. “I understand why.”
Fans – not just chicks – dig the long ball. Napoli, after a three-run ninth-inning bomb on Friday night, has produced 17 homers and 48 RBIs in 306 at-bats, about a half-season worth. Mathis has five homers and 26 RBIs in 179 at-bats.
No catcher in history has produced homers per at-bat at a greater rate than Napoli.
Napoli is hitting .297, Mathis .212 – despite an August surge during which he has hit .294. All five of his homers have come in his past 29 games.
“If you want fans to like you more,” Napoli said in that familiar banter that goes on between the two best buddies, “hit better than .212.”
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Mathis replied, grinning.
The most important aspect of their relationship is the mutual respect. They’re constantly sharing information, offering advice and encouragement, a team within a team.
Napoli admires Mathis’ remarkable athleticism and defensive skills and is keenly aware that the staff ERA shrinks by almost a run when his buddy dons the catching gear.
Mathis is in awe of Napoli’s hitting skills and plate discipline, which are on a level with most of the game’s premier sluggers.
They’ve been roommates for years now. Fans readily take sides, most of them drawn to Napoli’s loud bat, but nothing will drive these two guys apart.
The Angels are lucky to have two premium receivers — even if fans don’t realize it. A third, Bobby Wilson, has Major League skills at Triple-A Salt Lake, and Hank Conger and others are making progress throughout the organization.
Scioscia always says you can’t have enough good pitching, but he obviously feels the same way about guys who ply the trade he handled so well for so long.
Vladimir Guerrero, whose bat has come to life with a double and homer in his past two games, is not in the lineup today. He has an eye infection and is on antibiotics.
With Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson catching Dustin Moseley and Kelvim Escobar, respectively, in camp games in Scottsdale, Hank Conger is getting his first starting assignment in the Cactus League behind the plate.
Conger, in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia, has the ability to hit major league pitching right now. The former No. 1 pick from Huntington Beach is projected to play at Double-A Arkansas this season. He’s still viewed as a catcher, but his development defensively has been slowed by shoulder issues. The Angels are eager to see how he fares in game conditions.
Mike Napoli, who made his first appearance behind the plate in Tucson on Friday, going five innings and throwing out a runner trying to steal, said his shoulder felt good when he got up today — a very positive sign. He said he had no problems throwing long toss in the outfield — another good sign.