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
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.
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.
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.”
Kelvim Escobar, throwing to Minor League hitters wearing a different uniform for the first time on Monday afternoon in a simulated game, gave the Angels even more cause for optimism.
The big right-hander from Venezuela unleashed fastballs consistently in the 90s, including one that hit 96, while delivering 34 pitches to Cubs batters.
“I can feel the way the ball was coming out of my hand,” Escobar said in the afterglow. “I didn’t feel I was going to throw 96. Maybe 94.
“I’m very happy — even happier with the way I felt. I’ve surprised myself. I’ve tested my arm many times, and it’s feeling good. Now I’m going to stop worrying if it’s going to hurt or pinch and focus on my mechanics.”
The early projection for Escobar’s return to a spot on the Angels’ pitching staff was mid-season, but he has bumped that up by months. His recovery from July 29 shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear has been stunning.
Before going to the mound to face the Cubbies, Escobar had a long-toss session in the outfield and threw hard in the bullpen. He said pitching coach Mike Butcher told him he unloaded 38 pitches in the bullpen, and he was letting go.
That would have brought him to 72 for the day, and he was still bringing it at the finish.
“Even in the bullpen I had good velocity,” Escobar said. “I was feeling great. Throwing the way I did, that many pitches [in the bullpen and simulated game] is a good sign.”
The stands behind the backstop on one of the Minor League diamonds beyond Tempe Diablo Stadium were packed with red uniforms attached to young Angels, Minor Leaguer dreamers intently watching a Major League star.
“Seeing all the guys got me excited,” Escobar said. “The whole Minor League complex was watching me.”
Escobar used his entire repertoire – four-seam and two-seam fastballs, split-fingered fastballs, breaking balls, changeups.
Under the watchful eyes of Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, veteran right-hander Kelvim Escobar cleared another big hurdle on Sunday with relative ease.
Throwing his first full bullpen session — he’d thrown from 55 feet earlier — from a Tempe mound, Escobar unleashed 25 fastballs in natural form. Butcher was as delighted as the pitcher with the latest evidence of his remarkable recovery from right shoulder surgery last July. Escobar tweaked his left calf doing exercises a week ago, but there was no residual pain, and he was free and easy with his delivery.
“He was outstanding,” Butcher said. “The ball came out of his hand real well. He threw all fastballs, and the ball was located well down in the zone. No complaints at all. He looks very natural to me.
“You can tell when he’s confident by his facial expression, the way he’s talking. It was there. It’s one step at a time, but he definitely came into camp in tremendous shape, and that helps. He’s a guy you never have to push. He’s always pushing himself.”
That brings us to the one concern: keeping Escobar from trying to do too much too soon. He is being closely monitored by manager Mike Scioscia, Butcher and the medical staff on a daily basis.
The early prognosis was a return around midseason by Escobar. It is now possible he’ll be back on the mound in a Major League game sometime in May.