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
Cue up the Four Tops. “It’s the Same Old Song” with respect to the Angels’ catching situation.
Mike Napoli is hitting up a storm this spring and trying to work through some throwing issues. Jeff Mathis is catching and throwing superbly but struggling to find base hits.
Manager Mike Scioscia used familiar language on Friday morning when he was asked about his catchers and – specifically — if a spot on the 25-man roster can be carved out for third receiver Bobby Wilson, who is out of Minor League options.
“It’s the same as the last couple years,” Scioscia said. “It’s worked out that it’s been a split. I know those guys [Napoli and Mathis] have the ability to go out and catch 130 games each. Why they haven’t done it is because there have been some rough spots on the offensive or defensive end.”
He didn’t have to spell out which receiver had which flaws. It has been there for everyone to see.
Napoli came into camp feeling healthier than at any time in the past three years, and it has shown with his exceptional ability to crush balls and draw walks. If he ever gets enough at-bats, he’s capable of putting up huge power-production numbers, in the 30/100 range, with a .360 to .380 on-base percentage and .500-plus slugging mark.
Not many receivers can do that. The question is whether his defense will allow Napoli enough plate appearances to stay locked in, given that Scioscia continues to value defense first and Mathis clearly is the better catcher in every respect.
Mathis has been throwing lasers this spring, while Napoli has been unloading some changeups. Scioscia has seen improvement in recent days with Napoli.
“It’s definitely mechanics,” Scioscia said, identifying the source of Napoli’s throwing issues. “It’s related to moving forward, with a rhythm.”
Basically, to paraphrase another old catcher named Yogi Berra, Napoli is finding that you can’t think and throw at the same time. He’s trying to conceptualize his mechanics rather than just cutting it loose confidently.
“When he’s on, he’s a plus thrower,” Scioscia said. “When Jeff’s on, he’s plus-plus. Jeff has been throwing as well as he ever has.”
From glove to glove, as Scioscia puts it, Mathis can get the ball to second base on a steal attempt in 1.9 seconds. Napoli is in the 1.95 to 2.05 range.
“With a 1.9, glove to glove, not many guys are going to beat it,” Scioscia said.
Scioscia said he wants to keep Wilson, but it’s hard to see how that can happen unless the club carries 11 pitchers on Opening Day and has one of the three catchers available as a backup at first base for Kendry Morales.
Wilson has played some first base and so has Napoli, but that was in the Minor Leagues.
“Nap is focused on being in our catching depth,” Scioscia said. “Bobby has played some first base. It would be an easy switch for him. Ryan Budde’s also played some first base.
“They’re still going through that pitcher-catcher relationship of trying to work with everybody on the staff.”
If the Angels can’t find room for Wilson, he’ll have to be dealt in order to avoid losing him to waivers. The same applies to power-hitting outfielder Terry Evans, also out of Minor League options.
“You don’t want to lose players, obviously,” Scioscia said. “Those two guys we’re talking about, Wilson and Evans, are Major League players, no question about it.”
The question is whether they’ll be Angels, and that likely won’t be answered until the last few days of Spring Training. — Lyle Spencer
Early March Cactus League games are about the process, not results. It’s more about how you feel than how you do, unless you’re trying to catch a manager’s eye.
Accordingly, Brian Fuentes accomplished what he set out to do in his spring debut on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium during a 7-5 loss to Colorado.
Entering in the third inning against his former club, Fuentes struck out the first man he faced, Ryan Spilborghs. He walked Troy Tulowitzki and yielded a single to Ian Stewart for a first-and-third situation. Miguel Olivo went down for a breaking ball and hit it to the wall in left for an RBI double.
After striking out Matt Miller, Fuentes’ day ended.
Not bad, not great. A good day’s work, which is exactly what the Angels’ closer had in mind.
“For me, I just want to show I’m healthy and throwing pitches where I want to, and for the most part I did that,” Fuentes said. “I did walk a man and started falling behind and made a bad pitch to Stewart, a breaking ball that stayed up. But the breaking ball to Olivo was a good pitch, down, and he hit it to the wall. I’m all right with that.
“I moved the fastball around and put pitches where I needed to, so it was a good day.”
It could have been a lot worse. Fuentes could have been stuck in traffic for more than three hours like Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who didn’t reach the ballpark until the game was underway because of a wreck on I-10.
“I didn’t move forever,” said Jimenez, who chose to drive on his own and not take the team bus. “I left [Tucson] at 9 and got here at 1:30.”
Jimenez entered in the fourth and worked two innings, yielding four earned runs on two walks and three hits while striking out three men.
Fuentes, meanwhile, was throwing more off-speed stuff than is his custom this early in the spring. He feels he has plenty of time to find his fastball command.
“I never really push it too hard in the spring,” he said. “No matter how many bullpens you have, you don’t have the same arm strength. I had two batting practices and three bullpens under my felt.”
Fuentes endured back spasms that set him back last spring, but he found his rhythm after a rocky start and led the Majors with 48 saves in 55 opportunities.
“I try not to base it on results and numbers,” he said, referring to his springtime evaluations. “Do you feel healthy or not? That’s all I focus on now.”
Fernando Rodney, who closed for Detroit last season and brings his heat to the Angels’ bullpen as a free agent, was cleared on Friday to begin throwing bullpen sessions after experiencing soreness in both shins.
“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Fuentes said when asked about how Rodney will fit along with Scot Shields, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger in the back of a deep bullpen. “My personal opinion is having Fernando in the back of the bullpen is a good thing. I saw him in Detroit, and he’s thrown lights out.
“From the outside looking in, it’s good to have him.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has made it clear Fuentes is his closer, and that Rodney and Shields occasionally will spell him in the ninth inning when he needs a breather.
“His arm speed was good, his arm slot was good,” Scioscia said when asked about Fuentes. “He had good stuff. He threw a lot of pitches, 27, 28, and we didn’t want him getting in the 35-pitch range. That was a full workout for him.”
Angels starter Sean O’Sullivan yielded five earned runs on four hits and a walk while getting four outs, but prospects Trevor Reckling and Tyler Chatwood had impressive debuts. Each worked two innings, Chatwood holding the Rockies scoreless while Reckling yielded a run while striking out three hitters.
“Sully had a tough start,” Scioscia said, “but I thought our younger pitchers — Chatwood, Reckling — you could see the life in their arms. They weren’t scared. They went right after guys.”
Offensively, Maicer Izturis (two walks, single) had a perfect day leading off, and Terry Evans stroked a pair of singles, driving in a run. Mark Trumbo slammed an opposite-field double to open the ninth inning, and Michael Ryan drove in a pair of runs with a single and had a lenghty at-bat to prolong the ninth before the Rockies nailed down the win.
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.
Center fielder Reggie Willits was a late scratch for Monday’s Cactus League game against the Rockies in Tucson with tightness in the adductor muscle in his left leg. There was no immediate word on the severity.
Willits was on base in all three of his at-bats on Sunday with a single and two walks. He was replaced in center field by Terry Evans, with Adam Pavkovich inserted in right field.
Jeff Mathis got the Angels rolling with a solo homer against lefty Franklin Morales. A single by Kendry Morales and Brandon Wood’s RBI double handed John Lackey a 2-0 first-inning lead, and he shut down the rockies in the bottom half of the inning with solid command in his first outing of the spring.
On a gorgeous Sunday in Tempe, the mind wanders briefly, and here is what settles in: A massive deal involving the Angels and Padres.
Ten for two.
From Anaheim to San Diego go the following: Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Kevin Jepsen, Erick Aybar, Freddy Sandoval, Matt Brown, Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits and Terry Evans.
From San Diego to Anaheim: Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.
The Padres get a new team, virtually, and the Angels have a powerhouse that causes tremors throughout the game.
Bud Black adds three starters (Moseley, Adenhart, Loux) while subtracing one. He gets a future closer in Jepsen. He gets a superlative shortstop in Aybar and a kid from Tijuana (Sandoval) who can play three infield positions and hit. He gets a quality corner infielder in Brown and a first baseman in Morales to replace Gonzalez. He gets an outfielder (Willits) who can play all three spots and will produce a 370-.380 on-base percentage and 40-50 steals leading off as an everyday player. And he gets a power hitter in Evans who can leave any yard.
Mike Scioscia gets one of the best pitchers alive in Peavy and a first baseman in Gonzalez who is very close to the equal of Mark Teixeira. The Angels still have plenty of quality reserves left over, owing to an astonishing stockpile of talent. Yes, they add payroll with Peavy and Gonzalez, but the long-term benefits are immense.
The Padres get almost 60 years worth of contracts at an immediate cost of roughly $4 million for the 2008 season. The Angels have Peavy and Gonzalez locked up for at least three more years apiece. This would not be a half-season of Teixeira.
Peavy gives the Angels the Majors’ dominant rotation; Gonzalez is a No. 4 hitter who, free of PETCO Parks dimensions, hits about 40 homers and drives in close to 140 runs behind Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
Win, win. Everybody wins, once Padres fans realize that even with fan favorites Peavy and Gonzalez, they are looking at potentially a long, long season. Guys like Aybar, Willits, Morales, Adenhart and Jepsen would form a solid foundation for years to come.
Granted, there’s not much likelihood something like this would come to pass. But hey, a guy can daydream, can’t he? Isn’t that what Spring Training is all about?
It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but you have to wonder what it’s like to be Matt Brown, looking around the Angels’ clubhouse, wondering where you fit.
You were a star on the bronze medal-winning Team USA outfit in the Beijing Games last summer. You crushed the ball at Triple-A Salt Lake — again. You added some versatility, learning how to play first base. No less an authority than Reggie Smith, Team USA’s hitting coach, touted you as a Major League talent — and Reggie is not a man to throw praise around randomly.
You know you can play, and yet you wonder where, and how it can happen. Chone Figgins is at third, your natural position, and behind him is Brandon Wood. One of Wood’s teammates coming up through the farm system with him assured me that this guy “will just blow up if he ever gets a chance to play every day.” So, if you’re Matt Brown, 26 and waiting for your time, you wonder if it will ever come.
Kendry Morales has been given first base, and the guy can rake. Behind him is Robb Quinlan, who has a .285 career average in the Majors and must also wonder where he’ll fit in as a role player yet again. Matt Brown: third at third, third at first.
There are others who work out every day, preparing for a long season, and leave camp every afternoon wondering what’s in store. Reggie Willits, for example. He was fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, a major contributor to the Angels’ success, and he’s sixth in line for a outfield job. Depth is a great thing if you’re a manager or a GM, but if you’re an athlete burning to play at the highest level, convinced you can make good things happen, and have names on top of yours on the depth chart . . . you sit and wait. And wonder.
Too many good players. A nice problem for Arte Moreno and Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins, but not such a great thing if you’re Matt Brown, Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Freddy Sandoval, Terry Evans and all the others on the outside looking in.