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
Few, if any, Angels players are as popular with teammates as Maicer Izturis, who might just be the nicest guy on our planet. He’s always in a good mood, always smiling, always optimistic. Even a few days after the surgery to repair a thumb fracture that ended his season prematurely last August, Izzy was upbeat, quietly talking about the possibility of returning for the postseason — and he almost made it.
Izzy was in the middle of an early-morning conversation on Saturday with Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. It was the familiar, good-natured kind of dialogue that passes the time before the players hit the field.
“Look,” Kendrick said, pointing to the nameplate above Izturis’ locker with the No. 13. “Maicer has a new number this year.”
Izturis, ever so softly, mentioned that it holds no superstition for him, that he’s worn No. 13 in the past. He was No. 6 last year. That number has gone to Hainley Statia, who is among a half-dozen quality shortstops in camp. Bobby Abreu will adorn No. 53, with Brian Fuentes taking No. 40, Troy Percival’s old number.
When a visitor mentioned to Izturis that No. 13 has worked out all right for Alex Rodriguez, Figgins shook his head. “No A-Rod talk here,” he said, grinning.
Kendrick mentioned that Izturis packs some wallop for a little guy standing 5-foot-8, recalling how Izzy had homered in consecutive games as the club’s leadoff man last season.
“That won’t happen this year,” Figgins said, having established as his early goal a full 162-game season.
Izturis is sound physically and looking forward to competing with good buddy Aybar for the shortstop job again after they shared it in 2008, with Brandon Wood getting some time there with both players out in September.
Garret Anderson remains a popular topic of clubhouse conversation, players speculating where their former teammate will land. The consensus is that he’ll be a steal for somebody, that he has a lot of life left in his bat.