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
The Angels have lost their sizzle. They’ve made a few nice splashes in the bullpen with lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi bringing balance, but that’s not going to appease the disenfranchised fandom. They’re craving some big-name recognition.
The Angels have to do everything possible to make a bold move in the wake of losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. The obvious target is Adrian Beltre, a gem defensively with a lively bat. He’s a tough sign, of course, with Scott Boras running the show, but this is important. The Angels need to make a statement, not only to their fans but to their own players. Beltre would do that.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I’d go get Johnny Damon.
Sitting out there in free-agent land, virtually unnoticed, is one of the game’s acknowledged winners and sparkling personalities. Yes, he’s getting up in years, and some Angels fanatics are weary of importing former Yankees in their sunset years. But Damon can still play. He had a solid season in Detroit – 36 doubles, .355 on-base percentage – and would solve the leadoff issue, at last.
Give Damon a one-year deal at fair market value and let him keep left field warm for Mike Trout along with Bobby Abreu, the two former teammates in the Bronx sharing left and the DH role. Damon is not a great defender, but he’s good enough – and, like Torii Hunter, he’d be enormously helpful to Peter Bourjos.
For a team in need of a personality implant, Damon has few peers. He’s universally respected and liked throughout the game as a standup guy, a winner. He’s tough and he’s smart. He would also give Hunter some breathing room in an Angels clubhouse that is not exactly brimming with exciting, articulate leaders.
There’s a reason why a dozen or so reporters mill around Hunter’s locker space for 162 games every year. He has something to say and doesn’t mind saying it. The Angels have some terrific performers, notably in the starting rotation, but they’re not exactly quote machines. They prefer low profiles.
Johnny Damon is high profile, and affordable. I say go get him while you’re busy trying to figure out how to land Beltre. I’ve heard Damon could be on his way to Tampa Bay, but he has to see how difficult and dreary it could be in the Trop this season with no Crawford, no Rafael Soriano, no Carlos Pena, a bullpen that needs reconstructed.
Come on out west, Johnny D. And bring that bright light that follows you around. This team needs to come in out of the darkness. It could use one of the most endearing “Idiots” ever to pass through a Major League clubhouse. – Lyle Spencer