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
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