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
The Angels have activated infielder Maicer Izturis from the 15-day disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) and placed third baseman Brandon Wood on the 15-day DL retroactive to May 24 with a hip flexor strain.
The team also optioned reliever Bobby Cassevah to Triple-A Salt Lake and recalled from the same team right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
Izturis is batting .256 in 14 games and leads the team with a .500 average (6-for-12) with runners in scoring position. He is in Tuesday night’s lineup against the Blue Jays, batting eighth, with Reggie Willits in center field batting ninth, giving Torii Hunter a day off.
Wood is batting .156 in 122 at-bats with two homers and seven RBIs. — Lyle Spencer
The Angels have placed closer Brian Fuentes on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 6, making him eligible to return on April 21.
Fuentes said he tweaked a muscle mid-back on the left side on April 6 after making a save in the season opener the day before. He has not pitched since but feels he is mending and threw again, playing catch, for the first time on Tuesday and again before Wednesday’s game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Fernando Rodney, Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen are expected to share ninth-inning duties until Fuentes returns. Rodney was 37 for 38 in save opportunities for Detroit last season and likely will get first call, manager Mike Scioscia said.
“I was lifting weights — I just picked up a dumbbell, and it was a freak thing,” Fuentes said. “I didn’t have a lot of weights. I saw a chiropractor, and he said he didn’t believe anything was structurally wrong. It’s a tissue issue. With the rehab we’ve done, it seems to be getting better.”
The Angels recalled outfielder Reggie Willits from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he was rehabbing a strained hamstring, and reliever Francisco Rodriguez from Triple-A Salt Lake while reliever Bobby Cassevah was returned to Salt Lake.
Another move will be required on Thursday when Scott Kazmir is activated to start the series finale against the Yankees. Kazmir pitched a rehab game at Rancho Cucamonga on Friday after experiencing left shoulder tightness on March 25 and missing a turn in the rotation.– Lyle Spencer
Angels infielder Maicer Izturis was feeling “much better, no problem” on Sunday after experiencing mid-back stiffness on Saturday swinging the bat and leaving the game against the Giants in the third inning. He is expected to play against the White Sox on Monday night in a split-squad game in Goodyear.
Scott Kazmir reported no stiffness – “all good, ready to go” – after unleashing a full-tilt power bullpen on Saturday. “I threw everything, including some good sliders,” he said of his 60-pitch session. “I’m feeling pretty good about my slider.” Kazmir will unload 75-80 pitches on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe and expects to be ready to take his turn first time around the rotation opening week.
Setup man Scot Shields, working consecutive games on Friday and Saturday to gauge his stamina, came away from his scoreless inning against the Giants with no ill effects. He said he is no longer thinking about his left, landing knee, subjected to arthroscopic surgery last June. “I’m good, ready to go,” said Shields, who is scheduled to pitch on Monday at home against the Royals.
Reggie Willits, limited to batting practice with a right hamstring strain, plans to run the bases “later in the day” on Sunday. “His next test,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “will be in the outfield, to see if he’s ready to play.” Willits is the club’s best option in center field behind Torii Hunter but might have to open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Unlike Terry Evans, Willits has Minor League options left.
Ervin Santana starts on Sunday for the first time since banging his right elbow against furniture in his residence here 10 days ago and sustaining a bruised bursa sac. Santana is in the 75- to 80-pitch range and hopes to be ready to take his turn, which comes up third in the season’s opening week behind Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders.
Reliever Jason Bulger, having a superb spring, pitched in a camp game on Saturday, his first back-to-back sessions. He looks ready to roll. – Lyle Spencer
Decision day is fast approaching. Catcher Bobby Wilson and outfielder Terry Evans are out of Minor League options and can’t be returned to Triple-A Salt Lake without the risk of losing them through waivers. Both almost certainly would be claimed.
Evans is competing with Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Michael Ryan and Cory Aldridge for a backup outfield role. Quinlan can play four positions and is the most experienced of the group. Willits, held back by a hamstring strain, can be sent to Salt Lake, but he’s the only proven center fielder. Ryan has the advantage of being able to play the corner infield spots. Aldridge has scalded the ball all spring. Evans can drive the ball and play all three outfield spots.
It becomes a matter of choice, and it figures to come down to the final days of Spring Training after the club breaks camp and heads west.
The Wilson situation is far more complicated. The Angels have to decide if they can keep a third catcher in support of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis. If they can’t, Wilson will have to be dealt or lost.
Just the other day, manager Mike Scioscia liberally praised the 26-year-old Wilson, a Seminole (Fla.) High School teammate of former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman who has spent seven years honing his skills in the farm system.
“Willie from the defensive end is a terrific catcher,” Scioscia said. “He’s got terrific, is a great receiver and throws well. From the offensive end, he’s going to be a good situational hitter. He’s going to be a good offensive player in the Major Leagues.
“Obviously, we have some decisions to make. He’s a player that is in our discussions as to what role he’ll have with us. He’s a good player who’s going to be able to catch every day in the Major Leagues when he has the opportunity.”
Wilson is hitting .316 in Cactus League play with a .435 on-base percentage. He skillfully managed 20-year-old Trevor Reckling through four scoreless innings against the Giants on Friday in his second spring start.
“I feel like I’ve gone out and played hard, gone after it, done everything I can to stick,” Wilson said. “I’m still trying to prove to the staff here that I am able to play, and I feel like I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do. I’ve paid attention to the little details of everything that’s gone on.
“The one knock on me when I came up was, `Yeah, he can hit, but he’s an average catcher.’ To be voted best defensive catcher in the Pacific Coast League last year by the managers, that shows me I came in and did the job. I can block [pitches and the plate], I can throw, call a game, handle a pitching staff. I feel like I’m well-rounded.
“I pride myself on putting up zeros. Catching Trevor, 20 years old and facing Tim Lincecum, that wasa great experience for both of us. He did it with just his fastball and slider first time through the lineup, then we went to his changeup, one of his best pitches. He was in and out, back and forth, with a good tempo. That’s the one thing I pride myself in, that pitcher-catcher relationship.”
Carrying three catchers has benefits. It would give Scioscia flexibility with Napoli as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter, while providing support in the event of injury to either of the main receivers.
Crucial to the makeup of the 25-man roster is the pitching staff, whether Scioscia decides to carry 11 or 12 arms. Brian Stokes’ ability to go multiple innings – he’s done it three times this spring – could swing it toward 11 pitchers . . . and one more roster spot for a position player.
Decision day draws near. – 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
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.
In the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 win in Boston, as significant a victory as the Angels have produced this season in some respects, three September call-ups were on the field in support of Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes – including the man calling the pitches, Bobby Wilson.
Reggie Willits was in left field, where Juan Rivera had opened the game, and Terry Evans was in right, which had been occupied by Gary Matthews Jr.
Willits dropped a perfect bunt to set up the winning run in the top of the ninth, scored by Evans as a pinch-runner, and Evans squeezed the final out.
Wilson blocked a few balls that could have been trouble and once again handled himself with confidence and poise at the most difficult position on the field.
“That’s big for guys like us,” said Evans, a graceful athletic with a lean but muscular frame, “to know they have the confidence to put us out there in a situation like that, a big game on the line. It gives us confidence, as well. It’s huge.”
Evans had another big year at Triple-A Salt Lake alongside Willits and Wilson, as well as Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Freddy Sandoval, Chris Pettit and the rest of the Bees’ formidable lineup. Evans, Wilson and Wood are out of options, meaning they’ll either be with the Angels next season or available to other clubs unless they’re included in deals.
“Anything we can do to contribute, we’re happy,” Evans said. “It can be the smallest thing. For us, that’s our role here. We have such a great lineup, we know what our roles are. And it’s exciting to get a chance to make any kind of contribution.”
Evans and Pettit have been used as pinch-runners late in games, freeing Willits for a role he is beginning to master: dropping a sacrifice bunt in conditions far more difficult than any casual fan would realize.
“It’s something he’s been great at, and it helps if they can hold him back for those spots,” Evans said. “Chris can run, and Freddy can run a little bit too. Reggie can do so many things, he’s a good guy to have around late in games. Plus, with Bobby catching, they can save [Mike] Napoli for pinch-hitting situations.”
Wilson has caught 11 innings this season, his pitchers yielding two earned runs. He made a game-saving, ninth-inning save of a ball in the dirt in Oakland when John Lackey (nine innings) and Fuentes combined for a 1-0 shutout in 10 innings.
Wilson was sent to Salt Lake after that Aug. 4 game, making it a bittersweet day.
“I love it any time I put on the gear and get a chance to play,” Wilson said. “We all want to be in there, and it was great that Terry, Reggie and I were all on the field together.”
“Especially,” a grinning Willits said, his bunt having set up Howard Kendrick’s game-winning single, “when we win.”
Evans had gone in to run for Rivera after his leadoff walk against Red Sox lefty Billy Wagner.
“With more bench strength, especially pinch-running,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “it’s a way to infuse some speed into a situation. The baseball experience of the Major Leagues, cutting their baby teeth, is a big step for these younger players. September is important.”
Perhaps no player better embodies the Angels’ remarkable organizational depth and versatility than Sean Rodriguez, who is emerging as their new Chone Figgins with his ability to play capably all over the field.
“From the perspective of being an everyday player, he’s opened up a new dimension being able to play the outfield every day,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Wednesday as Rodriguez was back with Triple-A Salt Lake following two superb games in left field in Minnesota over the weekend. “He’s got enough thunder in his bat to play corner outfield. He can play second base every day, shortstop, third base. He’s a baseball player, a terrific athlete.
“The way he handled himself on the defensive end [at the Metrodome] is a plus. We’ve seen glimpses of the power he has. He’s putting it together.”
The Angels elected to return Rodriguez to Salt Lake and keep Reggie Willits on the 25-man roster because of Willits’ ability to do multiple things late in games — pinch run, get a bunt down, hit-and-run — and his superior experience in center field, where he’ll support Gary Matthews Jr. in Torii Hunter’s absence.
Rodriguez, a natural center fielder who played there at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami, transformed himself into a quality middle infielder after signing with the Angels in 2003 as a third-round choice in the First-Year Player Draft.
Developing his infield skills while hitting with power as he climbed the organizational ladder, Rodriguez returned to the outfield, playing all three positions along with the infield, to enhance his appeal as an all-purpose talent. It helped Figgins carve out his career, and now, having settled in full-time in one role, he’s one of the game’s elite third basemen.
Summoned to the big club from Triple-A Salt Lake, where he’s been pounding Pacific Coast League pitching all season, all Rodriguez did in two starts in Minnesota was lash a pair of singles and make two excellent defensive plays in his first start in left field, then bang a homer over the center field wall the following day.
Arriving in Chicago, Rodriguez learned that he was heading back to Salt Lake to make room for Vladimir Guerrero, coming off the disabled list after recovering from a muscle strain behind his left knee.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Rodriguez said. He couldn’t hide his disappointment, just as Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson days before him.
Scioscia raved about the impression made by the 24-year-old Rodriguez last season at second base during a lengthy stretch in May with Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis both injured.
“This guy can play the game,” Scioscia said.
Rodriguez is batting .290 at Salt Lake with 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 81 games. Wood is batting .316 in the PCL with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 74 games, while Terry Evans checks in at .290 with 22 homers, 76 RBIs in 105 games. Rodriguez has a narrow edge over Wood in slugging, .603 to .597, with Evans at .526.
I’m sitting here in the Dodger Stadium pressbox, where I’ve spent hundreds of days and nights, watching Manny Ramirez circle the bases after unloading a first-pitch grand slam — on Manny Bobblehead Night, of all nights.
Mannywood erupts in front of me. He’s second all-time to Lou Gehrig in grand slams with 21, and I doubt the Iron Horse ever made an entrance like the one Manny did when he was summoned by Joe Torre to bat for pitcher Chad Billingsley.
Manny came out to a thunderous roar and swung the lead bat seemingly for five minutes before Reds manager Dusty Baker emerged from the dugout to replace Bronson Arroyo with Nick Masset.
Moments later, Manny was at the plate, swinging a hunk of wood, the crowd going wild. And the ball was sailing into the box seats in the left field corner, Manny circling the bases like the 12-year-old kid he is at moments such as this.
And here I sit thinking that this is shaping up as one of those summers we might not forget in Southern California.
The Angels just roared from behind in Kansas City, behind mighty mites Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis and Reggie Willits, for another exciting victory, and they’re coming home on a roll. They’re doing all this winning without Torii Hunter, their best player, and without Vladimir Guerrero, their most feared hitter, and lately without Juan Rivera, who is having a tremendous season.
Mike Scioscia pushes buttons, athletes run out on the field, and the Angels win games.
I had an email from a reader the other day berating me for calling Figgins an MVP candidate. Why he was so livid about this, I have no idea. He claimed to be an Angels fan and couldn’t believe I would have the audacity to write such a thing. I was actually quoting Scioscia, but that seemed not to matter.
Well, I don’t see why Figgins can’t be an MVP candidate, just as I see no reason why Hunter, in the midst of his best season, also can’t be in the running.
I can’t see why the Angels can’t keep winning, and the Dodgers can’t keep winning, and we can have a magical summer all the way into October.
What would be better than that, an I-5 World Series, if you’re a baseball fan in Southern California?
Funny, I was just talking about that subject tonight with Dodgers infielder Mark Loretta, who played for the Padres when they were a pretty decent team. As we were talking, Ramirez — out of the lineup after getting drilled in the hand on Tuesday night — walked by,pointed to Loretta and Ausmus, turned his hand inward toward his chest, and said, “Too much money on the bench tonight.”
Not long after that, I was sitting in the visitors’ dugout talking with Eric Davis. He was wearing a Reds uniform and looking good in it, and he was talking about how Manny had “transformed” the Dodgers the day he arrived with his personality.
“He takes everything on, and frees up everybody else to just play,” Davis said. “They watch Manny and realize that he’s just a big kid having a good time. That kind of thing has a big influence on a young team. You can see what it did for the Dodgers. It transformed them.”
Eric, one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, was right. He was up in the pressbox, not far from me, when Mannywood exploded yet again. Davis was hardly surprised.
“He loves the game, everything about being a baseball player,” Davis had said as we sat in the dugout. “He is a joy to be around for teammates. Look at him out there, just a big kid having fun.”
At that moment, playing shortstop during batting practice, Ramirez hurled a baseball into the visitors’ dugout several feet away from Davis and beamed.
Ah, yes. There’s magic in the air these days and nights. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are wonderful places to spend a summer night.