Ibarra up, Marte down, Brown DFA’d, etc. …

The Angels continued to juggle their roster on Monday, selecting the contract of left-handed reliever Edgar Ibarra, sending corner outfielder Alfredo Marte back to Triple-A Salt Lake and designating center fielder Gary Brown for assignment.

With that, the Angels returned to the traditional 12-man pitching staff for Monday’s series opener against the Rays – partly because they used four relievers in Sunday’s win over the Tigers, partly because Albert Pujols returned to first base.

Pujols started the last two games at designated hitter while nursing a groin injury, but the 35-year-old was cleared to play the field pregame and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he “feels really good.”

Brown — a 26-year-old former first-round pick by the Giants — was selected off waivers from the Cardinals on April 22, but the Angels needed to designate him in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Ibarra.

Ibarra, signed to a Minor League contract in the offseason, gives the Angels three lefty relievers, along with Jose Alvarez and Cesar Ramos. Converted to the bullpen three years ago, Ibarra posted a 1.93 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, then had a down year at those levels in 2014, compiling a 4.22 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP and a 2.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40 appearances.

The Angels watched Ibarra struggle in Spring Training, then moved him to the other side of the rubber, saw his fastball play up and his slider improve, then watched it translate to the Pacific Coast League, where he posted a 2.25 ERA and struck out 29 batters in 24 innings.

Ibarra was informed of his first big league call up at 10:30 p.m. local time in Memphis, Tenn., on Sunday – in the final hours of his 26th birthday.

“Really happy to be here,” Ibarra said. “I was really surprised.”

  • Mike Morin, nursing an oblique strain for the last eight days, continues to get treatment and should be playing catch by the end of this week. At that point, though, the 24-year-old right-hander will have to make an entire throwing progression and go out on a rehab assignment. Morin said “it’s just going to depend on how my body reacts day-to-day.”
  • Right-handed reliever Cory Rasmus, in the late stages of his recovery from surgery to repair a core injury in March, was recently shut down from throwing to hitters in Arizona because of back stiffness. Scioscia said it wasn’t serious and Rasmus is back to throwing to hitters.
  • Tyler Skaggs, who will spend the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, played catch from 150 feet on Monday and said it “went really well.” Rasmus will throw from that distance four days a week and plans to get off a mound in three weeks.
  • The Angels hosted 1,900 at-risk students as part of an ongoing effort to keep children out of gangs. The kids – representing the largest group to attend an Angels game under the organization OC Grip – got the invitation as a reward for improved school attendance and behavior. Hector Santiago and Kole Calhoun were among the Angels members who spoke to them pregame.

Alden

Aybar still day-to-day, hopes to return Saturday …

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar was out of the starting lineup, as expected, on Friday, one day after tweaking his left hamstring while running up the first-base line.

Aybar felt just “a pinch” in his leg, and he hopes to return as early as Saturday.

“I woke up feeling better,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I won’t do anything today. Tomorrow, I’ll run. If I’m fine, I’ll just play tomorrow.”

Aybar’s absence prompted young utility infielder Taylor Featherston to start at shortstop and second baseman Johnny Giavotella to move into the leadoff spot.

Aybar, who started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, suffered the hamstring injury after executing a squeeze bunt in Thursday’s fifth inning. He jogged back to the dugout gingerly and asked to return to the game, but Featherston took his place the next half-inning. He wanted to start Friday, but the Angels told him to take the day off entirely.

They’ll continue to be cautious.

“He has to get to a level the medical department is comfortable with before we consider working him out to see where he is and getting him into a game,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “… When he pulls up, you’re racing in your mind. ‘Is this something where he’s just going to have to come out for this game, or is it going to be a month?’ You just never know with hamstrings. It seems like we’re in the day-to-day range right now.”

The Angels’ offense – 22nd in the Majors in runs per game and 27th in OPS despite a 12-run output on Thursday – can ill afford to lose Aybar for an extended period. The 31-year-old switch-hitter has been hitting .351 since May 8 and had settled in as the Angels’ leadoff spot over the last 11 days.

Giavotella can continue to lead off in Aybar’s place, though Scioscia brought up the possibility of Kole Calhoun returning to the leadoff spot if the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce stays hot. Featherston will get the majority of playing time at shortstop while Aybar heals and Grant Green can also fill in.

If Aybar does go on the disabled list, the Angels would call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A.

Asked about the chances of that happening, Aybar said: “I feel good; I don’t think so. I can’t tell you for sure because it’s a hamstring. But I feel good, thankfully.”

  • Matt Shoemaker, undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University seven years ago, had his own bobblehead giveaway at Angel Stadium on Friday. The 28-year-old right-hander called it “an honor. It’s really humbling and an honor at the same time to say, ‘Hey, they wanted to make a bobblehead out of you.’ Pretty special.”
  • Right-handed reliever Chad Smith was claimed off waivers by the Marlins on Friday. The Angels signed Smith, 25, on May 8, then designated him for assignment on Wednesday to make room on the 40-man roster for outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
  • Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher returned to the team on Friday, after taking a couple days off to be with his daughter while she graduated high school. Triple-A pitching coach Erik Bennett filled for Butcher.
  • The organization will host 1,900 at-risk students at Angel Stadium on Monday, as part of an ongoing effort to keep children out of gangs. The kids got the invitation as a reward for improved school attendance and behavior and for staying out of gangs. It represents the largest group ever to attend an Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP) Angels game.

Alden

Aybar still day-to-day with hamstring injury …

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar felt some tightness in his left hamstring while running down the first-base line in the fifth inning, prompting him to exit Thursday’s 12-2 win early.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he doesn’t expect Aybar to go on the disabled list, “but we will definitely make sure that he’s 100 percent before he gets back in our lineup.”

That could take at least a couple days.

“We can’t stress how important he is to our club,” Scioscia added, “so we have to err on the side of caution with him.”

Aybar, who has started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, felt his hamstring grab on him while executing a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the fifth and jogged gingerly back to the dugout, prompting him to get replaced by Taylor Featherston in the top of the sixth.

The 31-year-old switch-hitter was batting .344 since May 3 and had settled into the Angels’ leadoff spot.

If Aybar ultimately has to miss an extended period, the Angels could probably call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A Salt Lake. One of them would share the position with Featherston, though Grant Green could also get some starts at shortstop, and Johnny Giavotella could be a candidate to bat leadoff.

“This guy’s as important as you want to talk about on our team,” Scioscia said of Aybar, who’s expected to at the very least miss Friday’s game.

Alden

Nieuwenhuis, Cowgill, Rasmus, Green, Morin, etc. …

The Angels acquired Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets on Wednesday, and he’s expected to join the team for Thursday’s series opener against the Mets. The Angels will announce a corresponding move after the game. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’ll get some at-bats against right-handed pitching.

Marc Krauss — another left-handed-hitting power bat — is the logical choice to get optioned to Triple-A for Nieuwenheuis, but that’s only if Collin Cowgill doesn’t instead land on the disabled list.Cowgill tried to swing the bat on Wednesday, but it appears he had some sort of setback. Cowgill is meeting with doctors again on Wednesday, and Scioscia called a DL stint “a possibility if he doesn’t turn the corner.”

Cowgill was scratched from the starting lineup on Sunday with pain in his right hand. An MRI on Monday called the ailment a joint sprain, and Cowgill took an anti-inflammatory shot that kept him away from baseball activities for 24 hours.

Some additional notes from today’s lineup, which has Grant Green starting over Johnny Giavotella at second base and both of Scioscia’s catchers — Chris Iannetta and Carlos Perez — playing together …

  • If Krauss gets optioned after Wednesday’s game, Green would essentially be the backup first baseman (though Kole Calhoun can also play first base). “He’s an infielder and he’s got range,” Scioscia said of Green at first base. “He’s been pretty comfortable at first base. He spent a lot of time there in the spring, and also down in Triple-A. He feels comfortable at first.”
  • Asked if second base is now based on day-to-day matchups, rather than Giavotella simply being the starter, Scioscia said: “Johnny’s still going to get a lot of playing time, but we’re still going to spot Grant in there and also Taylor [Featherston] at times. Johnny, even with this little downturn, there’s things he’s doing at the plate that are important. He’ll continue to get a lot of playing time at second.”
  • Scisocia started Iannetta at DH and Perez behind the plate, a risky move because if Perez somehow gets hurt, the Angels would lose their DH (or use an emergency third catcher, which is unlikely). Scioscia said he wants to get Chris some bats “because he was just kind of warming up and we hate to get him out of that rhythm when we also need to play Carlos.”
  • Cory Rasmus, out since undergoing surgery for what the team called a core injury in late March, is currently throwing in simulated games in Arizona. He’d still have to go out on a rehab assignment after that. “He would need a significant chunk of what Spring Training would be to get ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Scioscia said. Rasmus, the Angels’ long reliever last year, could start a rehab assignment in the next week or so.
  • Mike Morin, who landed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain on Saturday, “is getting better” but the recovery will take “weeks, not days,” Scisocia said. “It’s going to be a while.”

Alden

Angels acquire LHH Nieuwenhuis from Mets …

The Angels, desperate for offense from the left side of the batter’s box, acquired left-handed-hitting outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets for cash considerations on Wednesday morning.

Nieuwenhuis, 27, is out of options and is expected to join the Angels for Thursday’s series opener against the Tigers. At that point, the Angels will announce a corresponding move for their 25-man roster. To make room for Nieuwenhuis on their 40-man roster, right-handed reliever Chad Smith – acquired from the A’s on May 8 – was designated for assignment.

Nieuwenhuis played in 226 games with the Mets the last four years, posting a .230/.302/.374 slash line with 13 homers, 60 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. In 2015, he went 3-for-38 in the Majors and batted .265/.319/.512 in Triple-A, adding 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 57 games. The Mets DFA’d Nieuwenhuis last week.

A native of Santa Monica, Calif., Nieuwenhuis has most of his experience in center field but can also play both outfield corners. For the Angels, he represents a low-risk addition who provides another option against right-handed pitching. Nieuwenhuis’ addition likely means left-handed power hitter Marc Krauss will be optioned back to Triple-A, creating more depth organizationally.

The Angels were shutout for the fourth time this season on Tuesday – one more than they had all of 2014 – and are tied for the lowest OPS in the Majors against right-handed pitching.

The Angels are expected to continue to look for options to bolster their offense.

Alden

Cron optioned, Green coming up …

The Angels optioned struggling, seldom-playing young power hitter C.J. Cron to Triple-A Salt Lake after Friday’s 4-3 walk-off win, and a source said utility man Grant Green will be taking his place on the active roster.

Cron scorched through Spring Training, batting .413 with a 1.165 OPS. But the 25-year-old first baseman carried a .204/.225/.276 slash line through his first 102 plate appearances and had started only three of the Angels’ last 13 games, essentially only playing against left-handed starters.

“I wasn’t playing much,” Cron said. “Obviously when you’re not playing, you’re doing something wrong, and the opportunity is not there for you to just prove you belong. I knew in the recent stretch there was a chance [of getting optioned].”

The Angels begin this week facing at least four consecutive right-handed starters, which means Matt Joyce and Marc Krauss will probably get most of the starts. Green is a right-handed hitter, but can play up to four positions – second base, third base, shortstop, left field – and was batting .329/.351/.457 in Triple-A.

Heading into the year, the Angels planned to have the right-handed-hitting Cron and the left-handed-hitting Joyce platoon at designated hitter. And when Josh Hamilton’s departure became a foregone conclusion, Cron looked like a legitimate candidate to get everyday at-bats.

But he never quite found his stroke.

“When you’re getting at-bats every once in a while, it’s hard to get your timing right,” Cron said. “That’s what I’m going down for, to get better timing and to start swinging like I know I can.”

Alden

Pujols’ wrist, Richards’ return, Cron’s future, garden gnomes …

Albert Pujols returned to the Angels’ lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox from Fenway Park, two days after a fastball caught him on the left hand/wrist.

Pujols initially thought for sure that he was headed for the disabled list, but a CT scan revealed only a bruise and the swelling on the bottom of his left hand went down significantly. The Angels’ 35-year-old first baseman is going to have to hit through a little bit of pain, but believes it’s manageable.

“Albert is as tough as they come,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He wants to play. He’ll go out there when he’s at 60 percent. He’ll go out there and compete and usually get it done. He just wants to play.”

Here’s the Angels’ lineup …

Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, CF
Pujols, 1B
Kole Calhoun, RF
David Freese, 3B
Matt Joyce, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Marc Krauss, DH
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Garrett Richards (3-2, 2.29 ERA)

Richards dismissed the thought of there being any added emotion upon returning to Fenway, the place where he suffered the gruesome knee injury that ended his season and sent him on a long rehab on Aug. 20. Scisocia place much significance on it, either.

“It wasn’t Fenway Park that hurt his leg,” Scioscia said. “It was just a baseball field. I think he’ll be fine.”

Some additional notes …

  • C.J. Cron scorched through Spring Training, but he has a .200/.222/.274 slash line and isn’t starting against right-handers. He’s still 25 and developing as a hitter. Is it best for him to go to the Minor Leagues to work some things out at the plate and get some regular playing time? “You don’t have to get [at-bats] seven days [a week], but if you are getting them one day a week, then there’s a discussion of what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player. C.J. has gotten enough at-bats where if he’s swinging like he can, he’d be contributing. But he hasn’t found that swing yet.”
  • A more positive memory from Fenway Park was Calhoun’s brilliant catch over the right-field fence. “That was incredible. You know, most guys would’ve probably caught that neck-high,” Scioscia quipped. Calhoun is listed at 5-foot-10 and Collin Cowgill, who typically comes in as a defensive replacement in left field, is listed at 5-foot-9. “When him and Cowgill are out there, they’re two LA Angels garden gnomes. That’s what I tell Trout — make sure you don’t step on them.”
  • The Red Sox called up Rusney Castillo and optioned Jackie Bradley Jr.

Alden

Pujols breathes a huge sigh of relief …

Albert Pujols thought for sure he was headed to the disabled list when he arrived at a local hospital late Wednesday night and saw the inside of his left hand swell up like a balloon, a result of the mid-90s fastball he absorbed a few minutes earlier.

But a CT scan ruled out a fracture, revealing only a bruise, and Pujols breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“My hand swelled up twice as much yesterday,” Pujols said. “I couldn’t feel my fingers. That’s the whole reason I came out of the game. I couldn’t grip the bat.”

About half the swelling had subsided by Thursday afternoon, but Pujols had a hard time gripping the bat, so Angels manager Mike Scioscia kept him out of the lineup for the finale of a four-game series at Rogers Centre. He hopes to return on Friday, when the Angels open up a weekend series at Fenway Park.

“I could’ve gone out there and played today,” Pujols said, “but one day won’t hurt it. If I feel good in less than 24 hours, I’ll play tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll feel, not 100 percent, but good enough to play where I can swing the bat.”

Pujols is off to a slow start, batting .231 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in his first 38 games. But the Angels’ struggling offense – 29th in the Majors in runs per game, 30th in OPS – can ill-afford to lose anyone for an extended period of time right now, especially not its No. 3 hitter.

Pujols got plunked by Drew Hutchison in the fourth inning and immediately figured he’d be coming out of the game. The 35-year-old first baseman ran the bases – and let out his anger on a late slide into second base – then stayed in for defense in the bottom half and couldn’t properly squeeze the glove while catching a throw on a double-play ball.

So Marc Krauss replaced Pujols as a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, then won the game with a two-run double two innings later.

Pujols is thankful the hit by pitch didn’t affect the area where he suffered a fractured left wrist in June 2011, an injury that kept him out a couple of weeks but occurred along the upper part of his forearm.

“My strength is there, but because it’s so swollen, I can’t grip the bottom part of my bat,” said Pujols, who had his left hand heavily wrapped. “You can be sore in your hamstring or your leg, but if it’s your hand and you can’t swing the bat, it’s hard. I don’t want to put myself in that situation. If it was Game 7 of the World Series, yeah, but we still have a long season.”

Alden

X-rays negative on Pujols’ left wrist …

X-rays were negative on Albert Pujols’ left wrist, which was hit by a Drew Hutchison fastball that forced him to leave the game.

“He’s OK,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a text message late Wednesday night. “Day-to-day with a bruised hand.”

Pujols was noticeably in a lot of pain after getting plunked in the top of the fourth, but he stayed in the game, ran the bases and played the next half-inning on defense. In the top of the fifth, though, Marc Krauss pinch-hit for him – then drove in the game-winning run with a two-run double two innings later.

Pujols left Rogers Centre early to undergo further examination.

“It didn’t sound good,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said after an eventual 4-3 win. “I was on first base and at first I thought it hit the knob. But after the replay, I heard everybody saying it hit the wrist. I just hope everything’s all right. He’s a big guy in our lineup.”

Pujols entered Wednesday’s game batting .232 with seven homers and 15 RBIs, but was nonetheless a crucial piece to an offense that had been limited to three runs or less in 22 of the previous 39 games.

The 35-year-old first baseman fractured his left wrist while with the Cardinals in June 2011, banging it against a runner while trying to field a one-hop throw up the first-base line. The injury forced him to miss two weeks, far less than what was initially expected.

“I don’t know if there’s anything residual from when he fractured it in St. Louis,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who wasn’t aware of the severity of Pujols’ latest injury immediately after the game.

“We’re naturally concerned. Just the area it was and some swelling in there. We hope it’s just a bruise and we’ll see how it lines up.”

Alden

Calhoun back to cleanup, seemingly long-term …

For a little more than a year, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has enjoyed the luxury of receiving uncommon power from a traditionally powerless spot in his batting order. His lineup was deep enough, productive enough to keep Kole Calhoun in the leadoff spot, while leading the Majors in runs and receiving power from almost every position.

But those days are seemingly over.

The Angels’ current offense – 29th in the Majors in runs per game and 30th in OPS through the first six weeks of 2015 – can no longer sustain keeping Calhoun’s power left-handed bat at the top. Scioscia moved him back into the cleanup spot on Monday, prior to the opener of a four-game series against the Blue Jays, and this time it seems like a long-term move.

“We’re going to ride this out,” said Scioscia.

Calhoun at cleanup moved Erick Aybar into the leadoff spot, a lineup configuration Scioscia used for what he hoped was a short-term fix from April 30 to May 4. Aybar doesn’t walk a lot – he ranked 184th among qualified players in plate appearances per walk from 2009-14 – but Scioscia believes he can succeed batting in front of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, which would seemingly lead to getting more pitches to hit.

“What Erick doesn’t bring in patience, working counts, he brings in just athleticism and still gets on base at a rate which hopefully will set the table for Mike and Albert moving forward,” Scioscia said. “And also, we have Johnny Giavotella pushed back to ninth, to try to connect him with Mike. Hopefully there will be some table-setting there that’s happening, and we’ll get to the big guys in our lineup. “

The Angels have already been shut out three times, equaling their total from all of last season, and had scored three runs or less in 21 of their previous 37 games. The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce continues to struggle, with a .143/.180/.219 slash line through his first 32 games, and the Angels’ lineup has several right-handed hitters who have historically struggled against right-handed pitching.

That’s why they need Calhoun in the middle of the order, to protect Pujols and maximize his opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Calhoun entered the series at Rogers Centre with a .327 batting average, three homers and 17 RBIs in his last 29 games. Last year, his .801 OPS from the leadoff spot was significantly higher than the Major League average of .715. It was an advantage that set the Angels’ lineup apart. So Scioscia tried for as long as he could to keep Calhoun at that leadoff spot, going so far as to bat Aybar cleanup on Saturday and Sunday.

But it’s a luxury the Angels can no longer afford.

“As much as we really like Kole in the leadoff spot, and in front of Mike, I think what we’re presented with right now just makes the most sense to go with it this way,” Scioscia said. “Guys have had a lot of time to get into their game and aren’t there yet, so we need to start to take a little pressure off our pitching staff.”

Alden

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