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Richards won’t be ready by Opening Day …

Garrett Richards’ recovery from knee surgery continues to progress steadily, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia admitted what has become increasingly clear on Sunday morning:

Richards will not be ready by Opening Day.

The 26-year-old right-hander, who ruptured his left patellar tendon on Aug. 20, is still about two to three weeks behind the other pitchers, Scioscia said. He’ll throw a 50-pitch bullpen session on Sunday, marking his fifth time off the mound, and will simulate some pitchers’ fielding practice in the outfield – but he’s still at least a week away from being completely unrestricted.

Richards has been targeting a return by Opening Day since he had the surgery and hasn’t backed off that ambition, saying recently, “That’s not going to change, regardless of what anybody in here says.”

Scioscia has spoken to Richards about his more realistic timetable.

“He knows it,” Scioscia said. “He knows it. He’s not going to be able to rush it because our medical staff is not going to let him. There’s a progression. He has to pass every plateau. It’s great that he’s going to shoot for being ready by Opening Day, he’s working very hard to be ready by Opening Day – but he’s not going to be ready Opening Day.”


Angels still awaiting word on Josh Hamilton …

The Angels don’t anticipate getting word on a potential Josh Hamilton suspension on Friday, which could mean that the earliest something comes down — potentially — is Monday. Still, a lot of things are up in the air at this point.

“Right now there’s no more information than we had yesterday,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t know where the process is. … We’ve got a lot of things on our plate that we have to take care of. That’s going to happen on its own time. We can’t let it affect us.”

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball officials at the Commissioner’s Office in New York on Wednesday, the Angels confirmed, and reported that the meeting was regarding a drug-related relapse Hamilton had during the offseason.

Contrary to what has previously been written, Hamilton likely would not be treated as a first-time offender if he violated the Joint Drug Agreement because he was on the Rays’ 40-man roster when he failed his first drug test in 2003. From February 2004 to November 2005, Hamilton was suspended four separate times by MLB.

First-time offenders get placed in a drug treatment program. A first failure to comply with the program is a suspension from 15-25 games, a second is 25-50 games, a third is 50-75 games and a fourth is at least a full season. As stated in Section 7D of the JDA, “Any subsequent failure to comply by a player shall result in the commissioner imposing further discipline.”

Hamilton’s situation is tricky, though, because he hasn’t had a drug-related relapse for about a decade and, aside from alcohol-related relapses in 2009 and ’12, has complied with MLB since being reinstated in June 2006. reported Friday that Hamilton’s suspension would likely be at least 25 games but less than a full season. But a lot of variables are at play, with new commissioner Rob Manfred having a say and the MLB Players Association perhaps getting involved.

MLB refused comment on Hamilton’s situation again Friday, and the Angels have yet to provide the reason for Hamilton’s meeting in New York.

  • With John McDonald no longer here, and none of the candidates for the utility-infield job having much experience at third base, there’s a good chance David Freese won’t be subbed out late in games this year. “If David Freese doesn’t have to be subbed out, it helps us a lot in some situations where maybe a game is tied and you’ve taken him out of the game,” Scioscia said. “To say we are or aren’t doing it now, it’s too early.”
  • Among the guys who have stuck out early in camp are Sean Newcomb, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano and Matt Lindstrom (more on his situation here). “When you see a guy like Newcomb up close, you get a real sense of the talent,” Scioscia said. “The ball just explodes out of his hands.”
  • Garrett Richards looked “really good” in his 50-pitch bullpen on Thursday, Scioscia said. Mike Butcher mentioned Thursday that his next bullpen would likely be Sunday, but there’s no certainty yet. Scioscia said “at most he’ll have two days off,” which is a good sign.


Hamilton meeting with MLB over disciplinary issue …

Josh Hamilton is in New York on Wednesday, meeting with the Commissioner’s Office regarding a disciplinary issue, the Angels confirmed. The team declined to give specifics on the meeting and aren’t sure when they’ll hear back from Major League Baseball. The Los Angeles Times first reported the news.

Hamilton wasn’t assigned a locker during Spring Training and has spent the spring in Houston, working with a physical therapist while rehabbing from surgery to his right AC joint. The Angels haven’t been certain when he’ll report to Spring Training and haven’t been able to guarantee that he’d even report to Spring Training at all.

Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Hamilton is in the third season of a five-year, $125 million contract and has posted an undewhelming .255/.316/.426 slash line in 240 games in his first two seasons of his Angels, looking nothing like the five-time All-Star from his Texas days. The 33-year-old spent all of September rehabbing ailments to his right shoulder, chest and ribcage, then went 0-for-13 in the American League Division Series and was told that extra time off could counteract the need for surgery.

Once he started swinging hard again, though, Hamilton continued to feel pain in his arthritic shoulder, prompting the need for surgery in early February.

The Angels were resigned to the fact Hamilton would start the season on the disabled list and have acknowledged that his rehab could spill into May. Now they have no clue when they’ll get their high-priced slugger in the lineup.


Trout arrives, focused on a title …

troutMike Trout arrived to Arizona late Sunday night. On Monday, he shot an all-day commercial for Nike. On Tuesday, he shot an all-day commercial with Clayton Kershaw for Subway. On Wednesday, about 30 media members congregated at the warning track in right field to hear the reigning American League Most Valuable Player speak publicly for the first time in 2015.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Trout is a bona fide superstar.

“It’s crazy,” Trout said, “but it comes along with it. I’m having fun with it. I’m not taking it for granted, putting on a uniform. I’m always coming to the ballpark having fun. It’s a little different, going out in restaurants and stuff like that, getting noticed a little bit more. But I’m having fun with it.”

Trout posted a .287/.377/.561 slash line with 36 homers and an AL-leading 111 RBIs and 115 runs scored while becoming the youngest unanimous \MVP in baseball history. But his stolen-base total dipped to 16 and his strikeouts rose to an AL-leading 184, the most ever by an MVP.

“It’s plain and simple, I was chasing the high pitch,” Trout said of his punchouts. “Everybody knows that. There’s things you can work on, but the majority of the time, they’re balls, and I was just chasing them. I don’t really go into video. I don’t like over analyzing my swing. I just like going out there and doing stuff that helps me work on things in the cage and in BP, and during the games, just go out and hit.”

Trout, who stole 82 bases from 2012-13, said it’s “definitely” a goal to swipe more bags in 2015.

“That’s another thing,” he said. “Just trying to run more. I haven’t talked to [manager Mike Scioscia] or Dino [Ebel, the bench coach,] but they’re probably on board with it, trying to get me to second as much as I can. … They were doing a good job of holding me on. It’s going to be a challenge.”

There’s a chance Trout could move into the No. 3 spot this season — something that may only be possible if Josh Hamilton is healthy and productive — but the 23-year-old said he doesn’t care where he hits. Trout called being swept by the Royals in the AL Division Series a “terrible feeling” and admitted to putting a little added pressure on himself in October, which saw him go 1-for-12 with a home run.

Trout called Howie Kendrick “a big loss,” but likes how the team looks.

“We’re looking to win,” Trout said. “We have the core group, besides Howie, and Josh is banged up a little bit. But other than that, we’re going to try to win some ballgames and get after it.”

Trout did a lot of hunting and a lot of fishing over the offseason — the funnest thing was snatching a few barracudas in the Bahamas — and said “this is probably the best I’ve ever felt, coming into Spring Training.” He came in weighing 239, two pounds more than he finished the season at.

He’s attained almost everything possible at a very young age, but he’s still motivated.

“Putting on a uniform every day and competing since I was a kid, that motivates me,” Trout said. “And just trying to win a championship. If that don’t motivate you, you’re in the wrong sport. You want that ring. Having fun. That’s the biggest thing. Just having fun.”


Baldoquin delayed over visa issues, but Trout isn’t …

The Angels are going to have to wait a little longer to get their first look at Cuban middle infielder Roberto Baldoquin.

Baldoquin isn’t expected to join the rest of the position players in the first full workout on Wednesday due to visa issues that are keeping him in the Dominican Republic. The 20-year-old right-handed hitter will spend most of the spring in Minor League camp, but he’ll occasionally work with coaches on the Major League side and may even get in some games late in the Cactus League schedule.

The Angels gave Baldoquin an $8 million signing bonus early in the offseason, which became about a $15 million commitment due to the dollar-for-dollar tax on exceeding your international spending pool. Baldoquin is expected to take over at shortstop once Erick Aybar hits the free-agent market at the end of the 2016 season and may even be able to play second base as soon as next year.

He’s expected to spend most of 2015 playing shortstop at Double-A Arkansas.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia has yet to watch Baldoquin up close – first-base coach Alfredo Griffin saw one of his workouts in the Dominican before the Angels signed him – but has seen plenty of video.

“What we see on video, and in talking to the guys who are seeing him, we’re excited to get him on the field at some point, just to see how his skill set translates,” Scioscia said. “He’s an exciting player.”

Some additional notes from Tuesday …

  • Angels center fielder Mike Trout did a long commercial shoot with Nike on Monday and was expected to do another one at Tempe Diablo Stadium for Subway on Tuesday. No visa issues for the Angels’ superstar center fielder? “With Jersey, you never know,” Scioscia, a Philly native, quipped.
  • Lefty reliever Atahualpa Severino does have visa issues that are keeping him in the Dominican Republic, even though pitchers and catchers reported five days ago. Severino, 30, is a non-roster invitee who posted a 3.22 ERA in 40 appearances in the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate last year.
  • Another non-roster invitee, Scott Snodgress, signed a Minor League contract with the Angels over the offseason to play for the team he grew up rooting for. The 25-year-old left-hander transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen late last year and will be used by the Angels as a reliever. That will likely prompt him to eliminate the changeup from his four-pitch mix.
  • Ryan Mattheus, a right-handed reliever who also signed a Minor League contract over the offseason, dealt with a rib-cage injury in Spring Training last year, then suffered another core injury in the middle of the summer and spent most of the year in Triple-A, posting a 5.80 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. The 31-year-old is completely healthy now, though. “I think I’m right where I need to be,” Mattheus said. “I just need to get the innings in and show I can get outs at this level. I’m very excited about the fresh start.”


Richards looks ‘outstanding’ in third bullpen …

Garrett Richards completed his third bullpen session on Monday morning, throwing 40 pitches – four-seam fastballs and two-seam fastballs – from the stretch at the Angels’ Spring Training complex.

“Outstanding,” Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “He looked really good.”

Richards is full weight-bearing on his surgically repaired left knee, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’s still about 10 days away from taking part in pitchers’ fielding practice and won’t be close to pitching in Cactus League games the first time through the rotation.

Before doing that, Richards still needs to throw from the windup, still needs to work on fielding his position, still needs to incorporate his off-speed pitches and still needs to face hitters in a controlled environment.

“There’s a progression that a pitcher needs to do to get ready for a season,” Scioscia said. “He’s not in that progression to get ready for a season. He’s still in rehab mode, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Some additional notes from Monday’s workout …

  • Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, Taylor Featherston and Grant Green are competing for jobs as the starting second baseman and utility infielder, but the Angels are very open to the possibility of carrying three of them on the Opening Day roster.
  • Drew Butera, in competition for the job as backup catcher, has been doing all of his drills alongside starter Chris Iannetta in the early part of Spring Training. Butera is out of options and has the most experience among the candidates, seemingly making him a favorite for the job.
  • Asked if he’d like to keep Albert Pujols at the same range of games at first base as last year (116), Scioscia said: “It’s just going to be based on how he feels. We’re a better team with him at first base, but realistically, we know how important he is hitting in the middle of our lineup.”
  • Angels first-base coach Alfredo Griffin saw 20-year-old Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin train in the Dominican Republic before the club gave him an $8 million signing bonus and compared him to Jose Iglesias. “I think he can stick at second and short,” Griffin said.
  • There’s still no update on Josh Hamilton, who’s in the early stages of his recovery from surgery to his right AC joint. “He’s in Houston doing his physical therapy,” Scioscia said. “Same timetable we had. It’s just open-ended right now.”


Could 2020 be Albert Pujols’ final season? …

Albert Pujols has a 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, who’s really passionate about gymnastics and really good at it. On Saturday, Pujols and his wife, Deidre, saw her win first place at a big meet in St. Louis.

“It brought tears to our eyes,” Pujols said Sunday afternoon, minutes after joining his Angels teammates in Spring Training.

Sophia is gunning for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo. That prompted a reporter to say he could still be in the Major Leagues while his daughter is in the Olympics.

“And that might be the year I have to retire,” Pujols said. “You can put that in the paper, because I don’t want to miss it.”

Sophia, born in November 2005, would only be 14 by the time the 2020 Olympics start, and right now you must be at least 16 to enter. But Pujols said she’s targeting 2020 nonetheless.

“Who knows,” he said. “They’re always changing the rules.”

Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million contract runs through 2021, so if he holds true to that, he’d be leaving his contract with two years left on it, just before his age-40 season. Don’t take this as something written in stone, though. Pujols was being playful, and later joked, “Maybe I’ll just have them put me on the DL for a couple weeks.”

But the superstar first baseman has hinted in the past about the possibility that he doesn’t play out the entire contract, and instead just works something out with the Angels. He wants to go out on his terms, and has too much pride to hold on when he can’t be productive.

Right now, though, he really loves seeing his daughter compete.

Watching her in November was part of the reason he opted out of participating in the Japan Series.

“We were so happy for her,” Pujols said. “It was almost a sign. We want to support her and want to continue for her to have that success.”


Angels don’t know when they’ll see Hamilton again …

The Angels don’t know when Josh Hamilton will report for Spring Training, and at this point they can’t be sure if the high-priced slugger will even report at all.

Hamilton, 16 days removed from surgery to his right AC joint, is currently rehabbing in Houston and will remain there until he is cleared for baseball activities. The initial prognosis called for a return in six to eight weeks, which would have the 33-year-old outfielder back before the end of April, but his recovery could drag into May.

The Angels haven’t issued Hamilton a locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium yet, primarily to make room for a Spring Training roster of 63 players – and they don’t know if they’ll need to.

“We don’t have a definitive timeline; just estimates,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto wrote in an e-mail on Friday. “We have anticipated six to eight weeks, though as I’ve maintained throughout, we will have a better sense once he’s closer to returning to baseball activity. Whether he joins us in Tempe will be determined at the appropriate time.”

Hamilton is entering the third season of a five-year, $125 million contract and has posted a .255/.316/.426 slash line in 240 games from 2013-14.

The five-time All-Star dealt with ailments in his right shoulder, chest and rib cage throughout September, prompting him to go into the postseason cold and go 0-for-13 in the American League Division Series. Hamilton was told to take extra time to rest in the offseason, but once he started swinging at full force again, his shoulder flared up, prompting surgery to shave the bone and create less friction in his arthritic shoulder.

The Angels prefer to keep Hamilton working with a physical therapist in Houston and on his own schedule until he can start baseball activities again.

“We will reassess the situation once he’s prepared to resume baseball activity,” Dipoto wrote.


Moreno on lease talks, Angels budget, Hamilton, etc. …

Arte Moreno said the Angels and the City of Anaheim are currently “nowhere” with regards to stadium talks.

Back in late September, the Angels, frustrated by a lack of progress more than a year after both sides ratified an agreement, ended talks with the city regarding a new lease for their 48-year-old ballpark. Moreno, speaking to reporters during the Angels’ first workout of Spring Training, said the team and the city have not spoken since “long before that” and currently have no intentions to restart negotiations.

The Angels, who feel their ballpark is in need of a significant foundational overhaul, can walk away from their stadium lease as early as 2016 and as late as 2019. If not, they stay until 2029. Moreno would not comment on talks with other cities, but did say he has no interest in allowing the NFL to use Angel Stadium as a temporary home for a team that moves to California.

In terms of the budget, Moreno said he isn’t necessarily opposed to exceeding the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million — as has been widely reported — but doesn’t want to put himself in a situation where he’s continually exceeding it and paying a heavier tax. The Angels’ operating budget is somewhere in the $150- to $160-million range, Moreno said, adding that the team has about $10 to $15 million to spend on potential upgrades this season.

Moreno revealed that he “took a peek” at free-agent starter James Shields this offseason, but never made a formal offer. The Angels only wanted to go three years, and Shields signed a four-year, $75 million deal with the Padres.

As for the Angels’ own big expenditure, Josh Hamilton?

“Interesting,” Moreno said, smiling, when asked to describe the five-time All-Star’s tenure with the Angels so far.

Still, the 13th-year owner is upbeat about the Angels’ chances this season after a relatively quiet offseason.

“I hated to see Howie [Kendrick] go, but we felt like we needed to start moving towards younger pitching,” Moreno said. “The numbers on those free agents were pretty big.”

Asked how he feels about the team, Moreno said what he says every year: “Ask me in October.”


2/18 notes: Richards, Iannetta, pace, visa issues …

Angels starter Garrett Richards is set to throw his second bullpen on Friday morning, a 30-pitch session from the stretch, all fastballs, and his first in five days. He’ll get only two this week, and hopes to throw three next week.

Still, Richards is behind the other starters, all of whom have at least a handful of bullpen sessions under their belt — and, of course, are not recovering from major knee surgery. Richards is still holding out hope that he’ll be ready by Opening Day, but he’s using that mostly as a motivation tool.

Realistically, he sees why the Angels might start him off on the disabled list. They have an off day on April 9, the fourth game of the regular season, and can go the first time through the rotation order without a fifth starter. The first time they’ll need a fifth starter is Jackie Robinson Day, on April 15. And with Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano added over the offseason, the Angels should have the depth to overcome a temporary absence.

Still, Richards continues to make steady progress.

“Everything feels good, agility feels good,” said Richards, who isn’t sure when he’ll work on covering first base. “I don’t notice anything different than before.”

  • Although the new pace-of-play regulations prohibit managers from leaving the dugout to challenge a call, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said teams will be given “a reasonable amount of time” to console with replay before making a decision.
  • Scioscia believes the new regulations are still “a work in progress.” “It’s not like pitch counts have risen over the last 20 years that would warrant taking an extra 15 or 20 minutes to finish a game,” Scioscia said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is the flow of the game, the pace of the game.”
  • The Angels plan to keep Chris Iannetta somewhere between 100 and 115 starts behind the plate this season, Scioscia said. Iannetta started 92 games last year and his career high is 105, but with Hank Conger now with the Astros, he may top that. Iannetta may also get starts at designated hitter against lefties, but the Angels won’t carry three catchers.
  • Lefty Atahualpa Severino (non-roster invite) and catcher Carlos Perez (on the 40-man roster) have yet to report to Spring Training due to visa issues. Both are expected in camp by Saturday.



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