Results tagged ‘ Mike Trout ’
Desperate for continuity from his offense and looking to maximize opportunities for his two best hitters, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a significant, highly anticipated change to his lineup Tuesday, batting Mike Trout in the prominent No. 3 spot and making Albert Pujols his new cleanup hitter.
Scioscia hopes “this is a lineup we can ride out for a long time.”
In his mind, it became a necessity.
“We’ve got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes,” is how Scioscia described it. “Which ones do you want to fill? Right now we want to go solid one through five and look at it that way.”
Translation: The Angels’ offense hasn’t proven to be very deep this year, so Scioscia would prefer to bunch all of his best hitters up top.
That involved keeping Erick Aybar at leadoff and moving Kole Calhoun to the No. 2 spot to bat him directly in front of Trout and Pujols, as was the case when Calhoun batted leadoff all of last season.
The Angels entered Tuesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs per game, while Trout and Pujols were tied with Nelson Cruz for the American League lead in homers with 18 apiece.
Pujols had started in the cleanup spot just five times since 2003 and not once since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. Trout batted leadoff as a rookie in 2012, moved into the No. 2 spot a couple weeks into the 2013 season and batted third only on days when Pujols wasn’t in the lineup, which was especially the case when Pujols missed the last two months of 2013 because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
Trout has a .323/.473/.511 slash line in 245 career plate appearances as a No. 3 hitter.
“I’m not going to change my approach,” said Trout, who entered Tuesday batting .297/.381/.577 for the season. “You can’t change your approach. That’s when you get in trouble.”
Since 1914, Pujols – riding a hot stretch that has his slash line up to .272/.323/.540 – ranks eighth in starts in the No. 3 spot with 1,851. The 35-year-old first baseman didn’t want to talk about the subject when approached by the media on Tuesday afternoon, but indications are that he really likes the move.
There’s a delicate balance here, a tradeoff between potentially giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities with runners in scoring position while ensuring that they will come up to bat less frequently over the course of the season.
“That was weighed very heavily,” Scioscia said. “But the bottom line is everybody in the room when we were talking about it was unanimous about the need to try to readjust some things.”
There was a 16-plate-appearance gap between the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the AL last year, which would add up to about 10 fewer plate appearances for both Trout and Pujols this season. Scioscia hopes Aybar and Calhoun can help make up for that by giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities to drive in runs.
Aybar’s slash line is down to .255/.301/.301 after a recent 0-for-19 slump, while Calhoun – the cleanup hitter for the better part of the last month – entered Tuesday batting .273/.328/.398.
“Right now we all feel that we need to try something that’s going to get a little more action, especially early in games,” Scioscia said. “It’s not just the first inning. But if we get a little action and move the lineup, these guys are coming back up in the third inning and in the fifth inning, the same group. If you just do a statistical analysis of it, the chances of these guys hitting with a couple of guys on base is very real within the first five or six innings, either Mike or Albert, if this works out. We’ll see.”
The Angels entered the 2015 Draft in search of bats, then selected a position player with 25 of their 40 picks over the last three days, a drastic, necessary change in philosophy after back-to-back pitcher-heavy Draft.
The Angels drafted a pitcher with 10 of their first 11 picks in 2013 and each of their first five in 2014. In 2015, eight of their first nine picks and 12 of their first 14 were position players. They finished Day 3 by selecting a college senior with 13 of their final 28 selections.
Now, Angels scouting director Ric Wilson said, “We’re getting very close to a balanced foundation.”
The farm system was in need of a major replenishment around the time Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2011 season, and the Angels wanted to stabilize it first with pitching, because it’s the more valuable commodity and it generally takes a little longer to develop.
This was the year they could finally address the other half.
“We laid down a strong foundation of pitching over the last couple years, and these last three days we hit it hard on the positions,” Dipoto said. “I really feel strongly about the group we put together.”
The Angels mostly played it safe, as usual, drafting eight teenagers and 22 college seniors.
But they like some of the high-upside potential they acquired from the high-school ranks, too. Like second-round pick Jahmai Jones, a center fielder with a football background and great athleticism. Or 11th-round pick Jimmy Barnes, a power hitter whom Dipoto called “a cross between Jermaine Dye and Chris Carter.” Or 12th-round pick Dalton Blumenfield, a catcher who’s 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. Or 17th-round pick Samuel Pastrone, a right-hander who’s up to 97 mph with his fastball.
The Angels turned heads by drafting the son of Jamie Moyer (Pepperdine University second baseman Hutton Moyer), the brother of Mike Trout’s longtime girlfriend (Gannon University right-hander Aaron Cox) and the son of Dipoto himself (Newport High right-hander Jonah Dipoto).
They were also criticized for using their first-round pick on Taylor Ward, the Fresno State catcher they had ranked a lot higher than most others.
“Doing some of the stuff we did early opened us up to do some of the things we did from [rounds] 11 to 15,” Wilson said. “There was a strategy to it. People sort of look at us cross-eyed when we do things, but there was definitely a plan to it. In time, it’ll all show itself.”
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.”
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.”
Albert Pujols’ tight left hamstring was “no worse” on Thursday morning, which Angels manager Mike Scioscia considered a good sign. But there’s still no telling how long the veteran first baseman will be out.
Pujols only got treatment Thursday, hours after his hamstring grabbed on him while jogging down the first-base line on a sixth-inning single on Wednesday night. The Angels transition to a National League park in San Francisco for the weekend set, eliminating the designated hitter and potentially ruling Pujols out until Monday, at the earliest.
“It’s obviously sore,” Scioscia said of Pujols’ hamstring. “We’re going to take it day-by-day for now.”
Pujols’ absence had a pretty sizeable impact on Scioscia’s lineup, which was struggling to score runs even while he was in there. Mike Trout settled into the No. 3 spot, Erick Aybar moved from fifth to first, Johnny Giavotella went from ninth to second and Kole Calhoun – 13-for-32 in his last eight games heading into Thursday’s series finale – moved from leadoff to cleanup.
“Out of all the guys you’d want to hit behind Mike, right now it’s Kole,” Scioscia said. “… It’s a deviation from what we really want to do in our lineup, but I think the circumstances are very clear. Right now, there’s a lot of guys trying to find their game. And with Albert out of the lineup, we have to make some adjustments.”
Fernando Salas was initially credited with the win on Wednesday, but the official scorer and Elias Sports Bureau decided Thursday morning to instead give the win to Mike Morin, who retired the final batter in the bottom of the sixth before the Angels took a three-run lead in the top of the seventh. Salas kept the A’s scoreless in the bottom of the seventh of the Angels’ eventual 6-3 victory.
Albert Pujols’ left hamstring grabbed on him after a sixth-inning single on Wednesday night, prompting the first baseman to exit early in the Angels’ eventual 6-3 win over the A’s.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t anticipate the hamstring injury to send Pujols to the disabled list, but said, “There’s some soreness in there, definitely.” Pujols isn’t expected to start Thursday’s day game and there’s a decent chance he won’t play the rest of this week, with the following three games coming in a National League venue – AT&T Park in San Francisco – that eliminates the designated hitter.
“It feels more like a cramp, but it’s really sore right now,” Pujols said after the game. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
Pujols screamed in pain while jogging halfway down the first-base line after a bloop single off Dan Otero and was immediately checked on by the Angels’ training staff. The 35-year-old felt a little better after loosening his left leg, but Grant Green took over as a pinch-runner nonetheless.
Initial tests checked out fine and Pujols probably won’t require an MRI – but he will need to sit out a little while.
“It’s weird,” said Pujols, batting .208 through the Angels’ first 21 games. “I don’t have that much history on the hamstring.”
For the Angels, it’s coming at a tough time.
Their offense has been slow out of the gate, Wednesday’s three-run seventh inning notwithstanding. They scored three runs or less in 12 of their first 20 games and entered Wednesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs and 25th in OPS.
With Pujols out, Mike Trout is expected to slide into the No. 3 spot and Erick Aybar could bat second, behind leadoff man Kole Calhoun.
“It’s tough losing Albert, one of our big guys,” Trout said. “Hopefully it’s just a cramp.”
The Angels are in Houston this weekend, and they hope to see Josh Hamilton for the first time in 2015.
“Hopefully we’ll connect with him face-to-face,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said prior to Monday’s game against Hamilton’s former team, the Rangers. “Everybody’s been in touch with him, but we want to connect with him and just see where everything is. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see him.”
Hamilton — without a locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium or Angel Stadium — has been in Houston since early February, rehabbing from surgery to his right A.C. joint while staying at a friend’s house. There’s a growing sense that Hamilton won’t play for the Angels this season, with the only question being whether the two sides can agree on a buyout for a contract that will pay him $83 million through the 2017 season.
The 33-year-old outfielder is not expected to stop by the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park during the upcoming weekend series in Houston, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
Scioscia said the situation is “very frustrating” “on some levels.”
“It just seems like as you try to get more clarity, it seems like it’s getting foggier and foggier,” Scioscia said. “We’ll see where this is and where this leads, and just where Josh is. I think first and foremost, we’re hoping Josh is getting the help and support that he needs.”
Some additional notes from Monday …
- Kole Calhoun is out of the lineup for a second straight game, with Collin Cowgill leading off and Matt Joyce starting against a lefty (both firsts). Calhoun took part in pregame activities, though, and expects to return Tuesday. He could be used as a pinch-hitter on Monday if needed, too.
- Remember that Prince Fielder bunt against the Angels in Spring Training? Yeah, that won’t happen again. The Angels will have David Freese on the left side of the infield when he comes to bat tonight in case he tries it again. Freese will then move to where the shortstop is situated on two-strike counts.
- Asked if Tuesday’s start for Triple-A Salt Lake will be Garrett Richards‘ last one before returning to the rotation, Scioscia said “possibly.” “We’re definitely going to err on the side of caution,” Scioscia added. “But if a guy is down there wasting pitches, you don’t want to get in that scenario. We’ll balance it out, see where Garrett is, get information from our medical staff and from our Triple-A staff and see where he is.”
- Mike Trout didn’t hear from anybody on the Royals after his brief dust-up with Yordano Ventura on Sunday. “It was just one of those things,” Trout said. “I was playing my game. I hit a single, and things got a little chippy.”
Opening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).
But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).
If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …
1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.
2. How good is Garrett Richards?
Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).
3. What will the Angels get out of second base?
They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.
4. Who gets the lefties out?
The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.
5. How do they upgrade the roster?
Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.
6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?
You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.
7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?
That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.
It should be interesting.
And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …
- Anticipated Angels-Mariners clash kicks off Opening Day
- Weaver, the forgotten ace, starts another Opening Day
- The simple question nobody can answer: What does Trout mean to the Angels?
- Kendrick is gone, Hamilton is a mystery — is the offense still elite?
- Scioscia, baseball’s longest-tenured manager, talks about his latest team
- Hamilton won’t be punished, and now the Angels have to see how he fits in
MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here.
MLB.com compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …
NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza
Feliz Opening Day!
Josh Hamilton didn’t have a locker at the Angels’ Spring Training facility, and he currently doesn’t have one at Angel Stadium, either.
His old locker, tucked away in a back corner of the home clubhouse, now belongs to the new second baseman, Johnny Giavotella. The Angels said they didn’t assign Hamilton a locker because there are only 38 of them, and that’s the exact amount of players who needed one for the opener of a three-game, exhibition Freeway Series against the Dodgers on Thursday night.
The Angels were hopeful of getting clarity on Hamilton’s situation by the end of this week, but it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently told SiriusXM Radio that a decision on a potential suspension for the Angels’ outfielder will “probably” be made “shortly after” Opening Day, which means next week at the earliest.
“I think that we’ll have something on Hamilton in relatively short order — it probably has been a little slower just because he’s not available to play,” Manfred told SiriusXM Radio on Wednesday.
Thirteen days earlier, Manfred told the Associated Press he expected a resolution “before Opening Day,” but the timeline has been moved back, because a lot of factors still have to be weighed.
There are questions about how to account for Hamilton’s past transgressions, which occurred when he was a Minor League player and were not subject to the current Joint Drug Agreement. There may be leniency for a player who has done an admirable job of coping with an addiction since his reinstatement nearly nine years ago. And there’s involvement from the MLB Players Association, which seeks sympathy for Hamilton.
This much is clear: The issue is out of the Angels’ hands, and none of the players have any idea what will happen.
“We’re always obviously thinking about him,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. “He’s our teammate. But until we know more information, we really can’t do much. You can’t really think about him too much because you don’t know what’s going on. He’s our teammate. We’re always trying to figure out what’s going on with him. Everybody wants to know, and nobody has answers. It’s kind of been like that the last couple of weeks.”
Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 over what sources say was a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason. Hamilton then remained in Houston, staying with a friend while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Angels officials have checked in with Hamilton sporadically to check on his injury rehab, most recently saying that he’s been taking swings off a tee.
Angels starter C.J. Wilson, a friend of Hamilton’s dating back to their days on the Rangers, has been in touch with the 33-year-old of late and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”
“I was very surprised that there was news about this at all, just because I didn’t really see it on the horizon,” Wilson said of Hamilton’s relapse. “He doesn’t seem to be a mopy, murky person. Every time I talk to him, he seems fine.”
Players who violate the JDA for a drug of abuse are initially placed in a treatment program, with the first violation of the program resulting in a suspension of 15-25 games, a second being 25-50, a third being 50-75 and a fourth being at least a full season. Players aren’t paid while suspended, but they are eligible for full salary retention in the first 30 days of a treatment program.
The length of his suspension will have a big impact on the Angels’ financial situation, considering he’s owed $23 million. A potential extension with closer Huston Street, entering his final season before free agency, won’t be finalized until there is more clarity with Hamilton. Once there is, the Angels will have to figure out how to fold him back into a team that may be well into its season by then.
First, they’ll play without him.
“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have.”
Hamilton was once a can’t-miss blue-chip prospect who spent four years away from baseball, fighting addiction. He made substantial strides, becoming a perennial All-Star in his five years with the Rangers and an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts.
But he hasn’t met expectations since coming to the Angels on a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2012.
Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued ’14 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. He missed 10 weeks while recovering from left thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September recovering from injuries along his right side — shoulder, trapezius, chest, ribcage — and went 0-or-13 in an AL Division Series sweep at the hands of the Royals.
Hamilton felt pain in his shoulder once he started swinging with full force again, requiring surgery on Feb. 4 to repair his right AC joint. The injury timeline was six to eight weeks, with the possibility of a return by May.
The fact he wouldn’t have been ready by now has made it easier to cope with the uncertainty.
“Josh isn’t ready to play baseball right now,” Scioscia said. “We’re just kind of business as usual and we’ll just take stuff one step at a time. You can’t answer questions until you’re really confirmed on exactly what they’re going to be. We’ll get the first step here shortly and just see what we’re dealing with.”
We’ve reached the midway point of the Angels’ Cactus League schedule. Whether that came fast or slow is merely a matter of your own perspective. But we’re here. 14 down, 14 to go, with an off day (sort of) conveniently placed in the middle and the three-game, exhibition Freeway Series following the Angels’ stint in Arizona.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far …
Second base really is wide open: And I’m not really sure if that’s good. Thing is, none of the three candidates for the everyday role have really stuck out. Grant Green (7-for-23) hasn’t looked comfortable defensively, Josh Rutledge (7-for-31, eight strikeouts) hasn’t hit and Johnny Giavotella (5-for-20) hasn’t done anything to wow you on either end. One guy who has looked good to me is Taylor Featherston, who’s being groomed for the utility-infield job. I like his defense, I like his speed, and his bat may be starting to come around. But I view second base the same way I did at the start of camp: We’ll either see a lot of different guys play the position this year, or we’ll see the Angels go after someone (Chase Utley?).
The rotation order is not: It’s pretty clear that, barring injury, the Angels’ rotation will line up in this order to start the season: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney. Yes, the fifth spot was deemed an open competition between Santiago, Heaney and Nick Tropeano, but here’s the thing: (1) Garrett Richards is pretty much guaranteed to start the season on the disabled list, because the Angels are being extra, extra cautious with his rehab, as expected; (2) with Richards on the DL, it’s senseless to have both Tropeano and Heaney in your rotation and Santiago in the ‘pen, as opposed to having Heaney or Tropeano in Triple-A, because it messes with your starting-pitching depth; (3) Heaney and Tropeano have been pitching on the same day, but Heaney started the first one, pitched the home half of a split squad in the second and will start against the Dodgers on Thursday, with Tropeano relegated to pitching in a “B” game. It’s Heaney’s spot to lose, and he’s done nothing to lose it thus far.
A big decision with Santiago awaits: Richards will be ready some time around the middle of April, if his rehab continues to go well. At that point, the Angels will have a big decision to make with Santiago, who has posted a 3.58 ERA in 106 games (51 starts) in the Majors the last three years. Do they keep him in the rotation and send Heaney (or Tropeano) to Triple-A? Do they move him to the bullpen, even though he seems somewhat redundant with Cesar Ramos (another lefty who pitches multiple innings and doesn’t profile as a left-on-left specialist)? Do they use him as trade bait? I can see any of those three scenarios taking place, but I’d be somewhat shocked if they sent him to Triple-A, like they did in May of last season.
The Angels will have two lineups: Assuming Rutledge gets the first crack at the second-base job (that’s what it’s looked like all along), this looks like the lineup against righties: Calhoun/Trout/Pujols/Joyce/Freese/Aybar/Cron/Iannetta/Rutledge. This looks like the one against lefties, on most days: Calhoun/Trout/Pujols/Freese/Aybar/Cron/Joyce/Iannetta/Rutledge. Mike Scioscia still needs to figure out how often he’ll use the right-handed-hitting Collin Cowgill to sit Matt Joyce against lefties, and whether he’ll have a left-handed bat to sit C.J. Cron against tough righties. And that brings me to my next point …
Efren Navarro looks like a good fit: I didn’t have Navarro in my projected Opening Day roster at the start of Cactus League games, mainly because I felt they’d keep Giavotella (out of options) to maintain as many options as possible for the second-base job. But Navarro looks like an ideal fit for the last bench spot. He’s a patient left-handed hitter who can sit Cron against tough righties, he plays great defense at first base and he’s more than adequate in the corner-outfield spots. Getting 10 hits in his first 26 at-bats hasn’t hurt, either.
Cory Rasmus won’t be a starting pitcher: Well, he won’t be in the traditional sense. Scioscia said recently that Rasmus won’t be stretched out to the 100-, 110-pitch range, but will still be stretched out somewhat in case the Angels need some length. This only validates what I anticipated all along: Rasmus will crack the Opening Day bullpen as a long reliever, basically being used in the same role he pitched in down the stretch last year. It’s a nice role for him.
Mike Trout is really good: He has 12 hits in his first 22 at-bats, and three of them have gone over fences. He also has the same amount of strikeouts as he has stolen bases (3). What else do you want?
Albert Pujols looks good: Several members of the Angels feel Pujols is poised for an even better year now that he’s even healthier in his lower half, and he’s looked good so far, going 8-for-25 and hitting the ball hard to right-center field. The latter is key for him.
David Freese is going to be really important: I think he’s the Angels’ most important everyday player, because they’ll be counting on him to provide additional pop in the middle with Howie Kendrick and Josh Hamilton not there and because he’ll probably be playing all nine innings now that the Angels don’t have a natural defensive sub. Of the four second base/utility infield candidates, Featherston has looked the best at third, but he hasn’t played above Double-A, so I doubt the Angels will be putting him in games with a one-run lead in the ninth.
Richards still throws hard: Besides occasionally having a hard time burying the breaking ball, Richards’ stuff has looked about as explosive as it usually does this spring, which is a very good sign.
Cron looks good: Sometimes he’ll strikeout chasing the fastball up near his head. You’re going to get that with Cron, who chased the same percentage of pitches outside the strike zone as Hamilton last season. But Cron has also driven the ball well this spring, hitting long home runs to left and some well-struck doubles to right-center. If Freese is the No. 1 most important member of the lineup, Cron is 1B. He’s the wild card.
It’s Lindstrom’s job to lose: if Rasmus is in the Opening Day bullpen, then only one spot is open (the others go to Huston Street, Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Fernando Salas and Ramos). Matt Lindstrom looks like an ideal candidate for that final spot, because he still throws pretty hard (few others in the ‘pen do), has a good track record and is an XX(B) free agent, which means he has the right to opt out of his contract (or make an additional $100,000 as a retention bonus) if not on the Opening Day roster. But he has to earn it. And aside from giving up two runs on three hits on March 12 — while pitching in the inning when Will Ferrell played center field — Lindstrom has looked good. If Lindstrom doesn’t make it, I expect Vinnie Pestano to be in the ‘pen. Pestano has options, though.