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
TEMPE, Ariz. – Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, recuperating from surgery for the removal of a cancerous nodule in his thyroid gland, was back with his guys, back on the job, on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Butcher missed the first two days of camp as he was regaining strength following the surgical procedure on Thursday. He was studying deliveries and release points and offering suggestions, as always, as his pitchers began getting a feel for things.
“He’s still coordinating everything,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s feeling stronger. He’s staying in tune with where guys are.”
The team had been sending Butcher, entering his fifth season as the director of the staff, video of bullpen sessions for him to study from his home in nearby Chandler during his recovery.
One of the biggest challenges for Scioscia and Butcher will be sorting through a dozen legitimate candidates for six or seven bullpen roles. What they don’t want is for borderline candidates to try to do too much too soon in order to make an impression.
“It’s always something in the spring you’re going to worry about,” Scioscia said. “When a guy pitches in the spring, he has to cover hurdles. If a guy’s stiff or struggling with 12-minute bullpens, you’re not going to pitch him in a game. You’re not going to put a guy out there when he’s not ready to pitch.
“Right now, it looks like 12 [pitchers total]. If guys have length, it might be 11. That depth chart is going to be real.”
Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi would seem to be locks, leaving Jason Bulger, Matt Palmer, Trevor Bell, Michael Kohn, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Cassevah in competition for the remaining three spots.
Howard Kendrick is a proud papa again. Kendrick, with son Owen in tow, arrived with the news that wife Jody presented him with a second son, Tyson, on Feb. 10. “Everybody is doing great,” Kendrick said. “I’m a lucky guy.” . . . Scioscia on Scott Kazmir’s early progress: “He looks good, nice and easy. What is impressive was his easy delivery and the ball was jumping out of his hand – which is what we saw in ’09.” The goal is to get Kazmir back to his smooth, relaxed delivery, rather than forcing it with max effort that disrupts his command. – Lyle Spencer
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was not on hand on Monday as the team opened Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in perfect weather. Butcher is recovering from surgery performed on Thursday for the removal of a cancerous nodule on his thyroid gland.
Manager Mike Scioscia said roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan and Triple-A Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett would handle Butcher’s duties until he’s able to return.
Butcher laid out the groundwork for the spring during a meeting of the staff on Sunday morning.
“Butch did a lot of work with me over the winter,” Angels pitcher Matt Palmer said. “He was typical Butch, in a great mood, full of energy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with him until I went home after working out [Sunday] and got on the Internet. I was shocked.”
Butcher, a resident of Chandler, Ariz., also spent time over the winter working with Scott Kazmir, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen.
Scioscia’s early-morning comments on Monday made it clear his preference is to have Maicer Izturis play at least 100 games, primarily at third base, and lead off, with Peter Bourjos holding down the center field job between Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.
“Maicer is a guy who a couple years ago played  games,” Scioscia said. “It’s feasible for him to play in that range. I don’t know if he’s a 162-game guy, but hopefully we get him in enough games to take the pressure off other guys to be in that leadoff position. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to lead off. If you project Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu 1-2, you’re going to have as good a 1-2 as you’re going to see.”
Izturis’ absence was felt last year when injuries limited him to 61 games and 221 at-bats. He was one of the club’s most versatile weapons in 2009 and is an exceptional clutch hitter.
As for Bourjos, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in his two months with the club last year, Scioscia said: “When we had Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right field, our pitching staff pitched at an incredible level. That wasn’t a coincidence.”
Scioscia on new lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who excelled for the Mets in a variety of roles in his debut 2010 Major League season after working as a starter in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants: “He’s a pitcher who’s going to be lengthened out for Spring Training. He has the versatility for multiple innings and is on the depth chart as a starter. He’s way ahead of where a lot of pitchers might be. He’s [throwing] off the mound, throwing all four pitches. He hasn’t expressed any preference to [GM] Tony [Reagins], Butch or me. He was a starter in Japan. His value is his versatility.”
All hands on deck. There were no absences on the first day of camp. – Lyle Spencer
In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .
The offense comes alive with lightning (steals by Jeff Mathis, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter), thunder (towering homer to right-center by Kendry Morales) and artistic merit (opposite-field, two-out RBI strokes by Abreu and Hunter back-to-back; two-out run-producing hits by Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis that proved decisive). These are the Angels you came to know and love last summer. Let’s see if it lasts a while.
Two pitches in bad places, a fastball by Jered Weaver up in Vernon Wells’ wheelhouse leading off the second inning, and a curve by reliever Jason Bulger that Adam Lind lost in the right-field bleachers in the eighth.
Artificial turf. Yes, it’s functional, in a twisted sort of way, and it’s nice that they can shut the roof and play when it’s stormy and freezing outside. But I’m sorry, I never could stand the stuff, from the moment I first saw it at the Astrodome so many years ago, and I still can’t take the fake grass after all these years. It’s sinful what it did to Andre Dawson and Eric Davis, to name two of many.
Everything Weaver did through besides unleashing two fastballs in the wrong places to Wells and Randy Ruiz in the eighth. The big kid who used to follow John Lackey around is becoming The Man before our very eyes, with the look, stuff and attitude of an ace. It’s a beautiful thing indeed if you’re an Angels fan.
A strong contender was Mathis’ athletic play in pouncing on a ball that skipped away from the batter’s box and erasing Lind trying to move up to third in the seventh inning. Very few catchers make that play. Mathis is an elite class defensively, and his eight-game hitting streak is starting to suggest that his postseason offensive eruption was no fluke. — 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
Early March Cactus League games are about the process, not results. It’s more about how you feel than how you do, unless you’re trying to catch a manager’s eye.
Accordingly, Brian Fuentes accomplished what he set out to do in his spring debut on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium during a 7-5 loss to Colorado.
Entering in the third inning against his former club, Fuentes struck out the first man he faced, Ryan Spilborghs. He walked Troy Tulowitzki and yielded a single to Ian Stewart for a first-and-third situation. Miguel Olivo went down for a breaking ball and hit it to the wall in left for an RBI double.
After striking out Matt Miller, Fuentes’ day ended.
Not bad, not great. A good day’s work, which is exactly what the Angels’ closer had in mind.
“For me, I just want to show I’m healthy and throwing pitches where I want to, and for the most part I did that,” Fuentes said. “I did walk a man and started falling behind and made a bad pitch to Stewart, a breaking ball that stayed up. But the breaking ball to Olivo was a good pitch, down, and he hit it to the wall. I’m all right with that.
“I moved the fastball around and put pitches where I needed to, so it was a good day.”
It could have been a lot worse. Fuentes could have been stuck in traffic for more than three hours like Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who didn’t reach the ballpark until the game was underway because of a wreck on I-10.
“I didn’t move forever,” said Jimenez, who chose to drive on his own and not take the team bus. “I left [Tucson] at 9 and got here at 1:30.”
Jimenez entered in the fourth and worked two innings, yielding four earned runs on two walks and three hits while striking out three men.
Fuentes, meanwhile, was throwing more off-speed stuff than is his custom this early in the spring. He feels he has plenty of time to find his fastball command.
“I never really push it too hard in the spring,” he said. “No matter how many bullpens you have, you don’t have the same arm strength. I had two batting practices and three bullpens under my felt.”
Fuentes endured back spasms that set him back last spring, but he found his rhythm after a rocky start and led the Majors with 48 saves in 55 opportunities.
“I try not to base it on results and numbers,” he said, referring to his springtime evaluations. “Do you feel healthy or not? That’s all I focus on now.”
Fernando Rodney, who closed for Detroit last season and brings his heat to the Angels’ bullpen as a free agent, was cleared on Friday to begin throwing bullpen sessions after experiencing soreness in both shins.
“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Fuentes said when asked about how Rodney will fit along with Scot Shields, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger in the back of a deep bullpen. “My personal opinion is having Fernando in the back of the bullpen is a good thing. I saw him in Detroit, and he’s thrown lights out.
“From the outside looking in, it’s good to have him.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has made it clear Fuentes is his closer, and that Rodney and Shields occasionally will spell him in the ninth inning when he needs a breather.
“His arm speed was good, his arm slot was good,” Scioscia said when asked about Fuentes. “He had good stuff. He threw a lot of pitches, 27, 28, and we didn’t want him getting in the 35-pitch range. That was a full workout for him.”
Angels starter Sean O’Sullivan yielded five earned runs on four hits and a walk while getting four outs, but prospects Trevor Reckling and Tyler Chatwood had impressive debuts. Each worked two innings, Chatwood holding the Rockies scoreless while Reckling yielded a run while striking out three hitters.
“Sully had a tough start,” Scioscia said, “but I thought our younger pitchers — Chatwood, Reckling — you could see the life in their arms. They weren’t scared. They went right after guys.”
Offensively, Maicer Izturis (two walks, single) had a perfect day leading off, and Terry Evans stroked a pair of singles, driving in a run. Mark Trumbo slammed an opposite-field double to open the ninth inning, and Michael Ryan drove in a pair of runs with a single and had a lenghty at-bat to prolong the ninth before the Rockies nailed down the win.
There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:
The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.
The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.
The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.
The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.
That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.
The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.
Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.
Lackey’s true grit.
The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.
Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.
Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.
Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?
The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.
The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.
The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.
The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.
The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.
Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.
The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.
The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.
The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.
In the absence of Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo — the two set-up artists most responsible for getting the ball to Francisco Rodriguez for 69 save opportunities last season — the Angels suddenly are getting some consistent production.
Veterans Justin Speier and Darren Oliver and right-handers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen have been solid in the seventh and eighth innings during the Angels’ recent run of high-caliber play, primarily against a National League West that the record shows has been the best of the NL’s three divisions this season.
Bulger, who worked two scoreless innings to wrap up Friday night’s 12-3 decision over the D-backs, has had 20 clean outings — giving up no runs — in his past 23 appearances. The D-backs first-round pick in 2001, Bulger is putting it together this season, finding consistency with his fastball command and his big curveball with an occasional changeup helping keep hitters off balance.
Bulger’s ERA is 4.78 — not where he’d like it to be — but that is mainly a reflection of three grand slams he has yielded. Right-handers are batting only .207 against him.
Speier has shaved his ERA to a more respectable 4.33 by yielding only three earned runs across his past 16 innings (1.69). With 19 of his past 25 outings clean, he has stranded seven of eight inherited runners. That’s always a good way to enhance your popularity among teammates.
Oliver, as cool as any pitcher in the game, owns a 3.09 ERA after his scoreless inning on Friday night. Going back to last season, the classy lefty has kept the opposition scoreless in 41 of 52 appearances.
Jepsen, who lost his rhythm while experiencing back issues early in the season, appears to be back in a nice groove, with five of his past seven appearances scoreless. It will take him several months to get his 11.81 ERA down to a respectable level, but he appears to be moving in that direction.
Hoping to find consistent form are Rich Thompson and Rafael Rodriguez, a pair of talented right-handers. The stuff is excellent. It’s just a matter of putting it together.
Scot Shields, one of the Majors’ best and most durable relievers, will have surgery on Tuesday to repair patellar tendinitis in his left knee. According to manager Mike Scioscia, Shields is lost for the season.
The Angels will go with a comittee for now to replace Shields in the eighth inning, featuring Darren Oliver, Kevin Jepsen, Justin Speier and Jason Bulger. Kelvim Escobar hopes to join the mix soon and could emerge as the eighth-inning specialist in front of Brian Fuentes if his shoulder holds up to the stress. Escobar threw 92 pitches in his comeback start in Detroit and found that he experiences pain after about 75 pitches, forcing his move to the bullpen.