Thursday, March 27, 2008

By Eric Denton, Senior Writer

As the Los Angeles Angels wrap up the 2008 spring training schedule it has been a tale of two springs. As a team they’ve played very well, leading the Cactus League, going 18-8 with three games remaining against the Dodgers and Padres starting tonight in Anaheim.

On the pitching front Jered Weaver (5-0, 1.37 ERA) and Joe Saunders (1-0, 1.00 ERA) have been very strong. Ervin Santana appears to have bounced back from a rocky 2007. Rookie pitchers Nick Adenhart and Darren O’Day have made strong cases that their time to shine at the major league level is sooner rather than later. Dustin Moseley is proving to be a valuable member of the Angels roster stepping up in the absence of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar (more on that later). Newcomer Jon Garland, who many fans questioned the need for when he was acquired for Gold Glove winning short-stop Orlando Cabrera last November, appears to now be a Godsend

Offensively, Torii Hunter treated Angel fans visiting Arizona with a big spring in his first year in the desert, slugging an impressive .720. Gary Matthews Jr. also looked strong hitting a robust .449 with a .612 slugging. Kendry Morales (.404 BA .596 SLG) and Howie Kendrick (.383 BA .517 SLG) both hammered opponents pitching and stood out this spring.

Those coming off injuries such as Chone Figgins (wrist surgery), Mike Napoli (hamstring) and Juan Rivera (broken leg in 2007) also played well. Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman were their typical steady selves. Youngster Peter Bourjos opened some eyes with his speed and an impressive .409 BA.

Unfortunately, not all the news out of Tempe was good.

Injuries hit the Angels hard this spring. First and foremost Kelvim Escobar appears to be headed for shoulder surgery and baring a miracle will likely be lost for the season.

The Halos will also be without the services of both John Lackey and Scot Shields to start the season. Lackey will be out until at least May while recovering from a strained right triceps and Shields is suffering from tightness in his pitching shoulder. Gary Matthews Jr. tweaked his ankle early this week and his status for Opening Day is now in question. Reliever Chris Bootcheck (strained oblique) will also start the season on the DL.

Top prospect Brandon Wood appeared completely lost at the plate hitting a measly .120 with 21 strikeouts in 50 at bats. On the plus side, three of Wood’s six hits did leave the yard. However, it wasn’t quite the performance Angels fans were hoping to see out the organization’s top prospect, especially with the short-stop job up for grabs.

Some unanswered questions still remain before Monday’s opener.

Who’s at short? Neither, Macier Izturis or Erick Aybar fell on their face nor did either go off and stand out over the other. While not a bad thing per se, not many Angel fans seem to be excited with the prospect of each infielder playing 81 games. Izturis hit for a higher average this spring, while Aybar showed some surprising pop with three home runs, tied him for the team lead. Meanwhile, neither man committed an error in the field. With Izturis’ experience as a bench player I expect Aybar to be given the opportunity to play himself out of the starting job. We shall see how it goes.

Who’s the fifth starter? At the beginning of camp it appeared the Angels actually had too many starting pitchers.

As March draws to a close nothing could be further from the truth. At one point in February, lefty Joe Saunders was concerned about racking up more frequent flier miles between Salt Lake City and Anaheim and questions were asked if Ervin Santana’s future was as a possible future replacement for soon-to-be free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez. Neither pitcher has anything to worry about now with Lackey and Escobar on the shelf.

Both Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart brought their “A” game to Tempe. With a likely scenario of rookies O’Day and Rich Thompson making the roster because of Shields and Bootcheck’s injuries, would the Angels be better off with the third year player Moseley adding some stability to the bullpen even though he pitched well as a starter? The twenty-two year old Adenhart certainly won’t be opening the year in the pen. He will be in the rotation somewhere, be it Anaheim or the SLC Bees.

Regardless of all these obstacles, the Angels appear to be in good shape to again win the AL West and advance to the post-season.

Best wishes to Angels’ special assistant to GM Tony Reagins, Preston Gomez as he recovers from an unfortunate traffic accident early Wednesday morning.
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