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
CLEVELAND – Joel Pineiro is geared up for a return to the Angels’ rotation on Saturday at Tampa Bay, and it appears that he’ll get his night inside the dome at the Tropicana against the Rays.
“We’ll try to get him out there over the weekend – most likely Saturday,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re still tweaking a couple of things.”
Pineiro hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Angels since sustaining a strained left oblique warming up for a July 28 assignment against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium.
His recovery went more quickly than anticipated – the original projection had him likely missing the rest of the season – and Pineiro was on his game throwing strikes for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in a rehab assignment against Lake Elsinore. It came in the California League playoffs on Sunday, and he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before leaving having yielded two runs in six innings.
“I was throwing everything,” Pineiro said. “It went really well. It was exciting, the atmosphere for the game. Obviously, it was a bigger game for them than for me, but it was fun. They were very aggressive, swinging early in counts, and I had only 50 pitches after five innings.”
Pineiro finished with 68 pitches, shy of the 75 to 80 he’d anticipated. He said he came out of it feeling good and was set to throw a bullpen session as the Angels opened a three-game series against the Indians on Tuesday night.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there,” Pineiro said. “It’s been a while.”
Trevor Bell, who showed promise as a starter with progressively better work in Pineiro’s absence, has returned to the bullpen with the veteran about ready to reclaim his role.
Pineiro, signed to a two-year, $16 million free-agent deal after the ’09 season, is 10-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 20 starts. He hopes to carry a nice finish into the winter, looking ahead to 2011 as part of a rotation that figures to be among the best and deepest in the game with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir.
“Our rotation has always been our foundation,” Scioscia said. “We like what we have here. It’s a good mix, a good blend of talents.” – Lyle Spencer
ARLINGTON – A few hours before the start of a crucial four-game series with the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the three-time reigning division champion Angels moved to bolster their offense on Thursday.
Alberto Callaspo, a switch-hitting infielder expected to spend most of his time at third base, was acquired from the Royals in exchange for pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith.
Callaspo, 27, is hitting .275 for the Royals this season after batting .300 in 2009 with a career-high 11 homers and 73 RBIs. He has eight homers and 43 RBIs this season. He signed with the Angels in 2001 as a teen in Maracay, Venezuela, and was trade to Arizona for pitcher Jason Bulger. The Royals acquired Callaspo for Billy Buckner.
“He’ll be a boost,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can definitely play third base every day. We’ll see how some of the pieces fit. The work he does in the batter’s box is special. He can hit. He’ll help fill the void Kendry Morales’ departure created.”
O’Sullivan, 22, held the Yankees to two runs on two hits in six innings in a victory on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Angels were 9-2 in the big right-hander’s 11 starts over the past two seasons. The San Diegan was a third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
Smith, a 21-year-old native of Georgia taken in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is a 6-foot-5 left-hander in his third professional season. He has pitched for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas this season and is considered to have high upside.
“This was not by any means an easy decision on Tony’s part,” Scioscia said, referring to general manager Tony Reagins. “It’s not easy to put Sean O’Sullivan or Will Smith in a deal unless we were getting a player who can help us.”
Callaspo is expected to join the Angels on Friday night. O’Sullivan, who had been scheduled to pitch Sunday’s series finale, likely will give way now to Trevor Bell. Scott Kazmir (shoulder fatigue) is not eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list until Monday, and it is unclear when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation.
“It’s weird,” O’Sullivan said, minutes after being informed of the deal by Scioscia. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded. The goal is to go to a place where they need you, want you, so you can show you’re capable of playing at this level.
“I’m trading red for blue. That’s all I know right now.” — Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. – Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen, constant companions throughout Spring Training in the clubhouse and on the field, were beaming on a cool Tuesday as they made the walk back from the Minor League fields to Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Accompanying the two Angels relievers was the club’s all-time saves king, Troy Percival, who is in camp with a pair of southpaws of renown, Chuck Finley and Mark Langston, providing equal measures of wisdom and good humor.
Percival had watched two of his heirs in manager Mike Scioscia’s bullpen throw 20 pain-free pitches in a simulated game, taking what they hope were the final steps leading to their Cactus League debuts sometime this week.
Shields is coming back from June surgery on his left, landing knee, while Jepsen got a late start because of some stiffness in his pitching shoulder when he arrived in camp.
“A good day,” said Shields, the game’s most durable and productive setup man since 2004 and the club’s elder statesman in terms of service with the Angels. “I threw fastballs, three or four curveballs, no changeups. I got behind a couple guys but got back [in the count]. The movement was there.
“Everything felt good. I think I’m ready to get in a game, but it’s their call on that.”
Jepsen, who threw 54 2/3 innings for the Angels last season and 18 more for Triple-A Salt Lake, felt the wear and took it relatively easy in the off-season, highlighted by his Nov. 13 Cabo San Lucas, Mex., marriage to Andre Foisy.
“It didn’t feel like 20 pitches,” Jepsen said. “I felt great, ready to go. I felt strong for the first time throwing to hitters this spring. I’m ready to go at it.”
How these two valuable right arms feel on Wednesday in response to the workouts will factor into whether they’re turned loose next in live game action or given another outing against hitters wearing their own jerseys.
Joel Pineiro, scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Padres, had a meeting with the dentist instead when he showed up with a very sore mouth. Anthony Ortega took his place and pitched effectively in the 6-5 win, holding the Padres to one earned run in three innings. Brian Fuentes also had a strong second outing, and Trevor Bell (two unearned runs in two innings) impressed Scioscia along with Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched a perfect ninth.
Ryan Mount homered, and Bobby Wilson’s two-run triple and Reggie Willits’ two-run single were the big offensive blows of the day. Right fielder Michael Ryan — a “real sleeper” in Scioscia’s eyes — had another superb game with a diving catch in right center and a double, RBI single and walk for a perfect day at the plate.
Bobby Abreu was a right field scratch, giving Ryan the start, as rain delayed the game’s start and created damp conditions. – Lyle Spencer
Brad Penny clearly would have value to the Angels if he clears waivers on Saturday when the 72-hour window for released players closes. The veteran right-hander was handed his release by the Red Sox on Thursday to open roster space for reliever Billy Wagner, acquired from the Mets in a waiver deal.
Penny, 31, signed a $5 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox, but he will not reach any of the bonus incentives for innings pitched. He was 7-8 in 24 starts and 131 2/3 innings for Boston with a 5.61 ERA. His bonuses in $500,000 increments were to kick in with 160 innings pitched.
Penny’s performance this season was a far cry from the back-to-back 16-win seasons he delivered for the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. He started the ’06 All-Star Game for the National League in Pittsburgh – yielding a mammoth homer to Vladimir Guerrero – and was third in the ’07 NL Cy Young Award balloting after going 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA.
Eleven American League clubs would have a shot at claiming Penny before the Angels, whose record is surpassed only by the Yankees. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, he’d amount to a bargain-basement pickup at less than $100,000 with the Major League minimum at $400,000.
With the Angels going with young Trevor Bell in the fifth spot in the rotation, Penny would be a natural fit for the estimated six starts remaining. He’d have to sign by Monday to be eligible for a postseason roster spot, unless an injury opens space.
Penny certainly showed in 2003 with the Marlins that he didn’t mind postseason pressure, twice beating the Yankees in the World Series with a 2.13 ERA in his two outings.
Penny requested his release on Wednesday night.
“Because we ended up letting him go, our feelings don’t change about him personally,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We really appreciated the way Brad went about his business. He was a good teammate, and he worked hard. We’re always pretty honest about the fact that we do what’s in the best interest of the organization and the team, and we try to tell the players that.”
Justin Speier, the Angels’ veteran right-handed reliever, has been handed his unconditional release to make room on the 25-man roster for Trevor Bell, the 22-year-old right-hander who makes his Major League debut on Wednesday against the Rays.
Speier, signed to a free agent contract with the Angels after the 2006 season, was 4-2 with a 5.18 ERA this season in 41 appearances. He pitched 40 innings, yielding 44 hits and 15 walks while striking out 39 batters. Opponents had a .277 batting average against him.
“It probably caught him off guard,” Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. “It’s emotional. There was nothing but professionalism in the way he took it on short notice. He has sincere passion for this organization, and the feelings are mutual.
“You always hope a player continues his career and gets an opportunity. We know he wants to continue to pitch. He’s going to take a breather.”
Speier, 35, is the son of long-time Major League shortstop Chris Speier, now a coach on manager Dusty Baker’s staff in Cincinnati.
Speier began his Major League career in 1998 after he was taken in the 55th round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs. He pitched for the Marlins, Braves, Indians, Rockies and Blue Jays before joining the Angels.
He’s 35-33 in his career in 613 Major League appearances.
“We felt from a baseball standpoint this decision at this time was the right decision to make,” Reagins said. “It’s something we’ve talked about for several days. It’s always a difficult decision when you have to go this route.
“From a baseball standpoint, it was something we felt that had to be done to allow us to do some other things.”
Bell gives the Angels two rookie starting pitchers, joining Sean O’Sullivan, with Joe Saunders on the disabled list. Middle relievers Matt Palmer and Shane Loux also are candidates to join the rotation, having had some success in that role.
The Angels never rush into decisions, or announcing them, but it appears that right-hander Trevor Bell is the choice to fill Joe Saunders’ hole in the rotation first time around on Wednesday against the Rays at Angel Stadium.
It would be Bell’s Major League debut. He was lifted after two innings in his start on Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake against Memphis, having allowed two hits but no runs. He’s 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 starts after going 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA to start the season at Double-A Arkansas.
“We shortened him yesterday in his start just to make him a candidate,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll see how he’s doing in the next couple of days, but he’s certainly a guy we’re looking at. He threw two innings yesterday. We’ll see where we are.”
Matt Palmer and Shane Loux are in-house candidates to take the start. Both right-handers have been pitching in middle relief.
Palmer is 9-1 with a 4.52 ERA and has made 12 starts in 25 appearances. Loux is 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA, with six starts and 15 appearances.
Bell, 22, was a 2005 first-round compensation pick in the First-Year Player Draft, No. 37 overall, out of Crescenta Valley High School in Southern California. He had not pitched above Class A until this season.
“I think he has jumped on our depth chart from where he was a couple of years ago, where he was searching to find where his best stuff was,” Scioscia said. “Not unlike a lot of young pitchers in pro ball.
“Experience will teach you what works and what doesn’t work and what you need to do. He’s starting to figure it out. We feel he has the makeup to come up here and compete right now.
That’s why he’s a candidate and he’s on our depth chart. He’s shown terrific fastball command with good life and he really spins the ball well. We’ll see how it moves forward.”