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Angels aim to get off to quicker start

February 14, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Angels manager Mike Scioscia said small changes are in store this spring to try to get the team off to a better regular-season start, an area that hurt Los Angeles the past two seasons.

Scioscia said Thursday that hitters would see more at-bats in the spring and starters could go into the third inning in their first spring starts. The standard has been two innings.

“I think there’s definitely a focus on making sure our bullpens will be ready to go when we start the season,” Scioscia said as pitchers and catchers reported in Tempe. “I think our rotation, we’re going to pay a lot of attention to that.

“On the offensive end, I don’t think there is one thing you could look at as a group. I think we did a good job of getting them their at-bats without them being worn out. I think some guys may have struggled to get out of the box and then some guys have gotten off to terrific starts.”

Two players who haven’t been off to terrific starts in the past are Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Last season, Pujols came out of spring and tried to play through what was determined to be a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He struggled with only two homers through April 28 (both in the same game) on the way to an injury-plagued and shortened season that culminated with his lowest offensive output (17 homers, 64 RBIs) of his 13-year career.

Hamilton had two homers and nine RBIs through April 2013 and a .204 batting average. He had a .223 average at the end of June before heating up to finish with a .250 average with 21 homers and 79 RBIs.

Pujols’ season was shut down in late August after a career-low 443 at-bats with the intention of being ready for 2014.

“He’s in great shape,” Scioscia said of Pujols. “I think he’s feeling good because he’s healthy. (When a player) has been around as long as Albert has, he certainly has a feel when they feel their body can do some of the things that they’re used to doing and I think he’s there.”

Scioscia said Hamilton “looks healthier and stronger.”

“I’m confident we’ll see a different Josh, especially early in the year,” he said.

When pressed on the batting order, Scioscia did not rule out Mike Trout for the leadoff spot. Trout delivered during his second straight outstanding offensive season, hitting .323 with an on-base percentage of .432 and 27 homers and 97 RBIs.

“I think (wherever) Mike hits in the lineup it’s important that someone hit behind him that’s going to protect him,” Scioscia said. “I don’t think we’re going to rule out anything with Mike.”

One candidate is second-year outfielder Cole Calhoun, the expected starting right fielder after Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo were traded over the offseason.

Calhoun hit .282 with a .347 on-base percentage in 222 plate appearances with the Angels in 2013. He had eight homers and 32 RBIs.

“I think Cole is definitely a candidate,” Scioscia said. “Whoever is hitting in front of Mike has to be a player who, first, is able to take advantage of being challenged and, second, bring some on-base to the table with decent speed to where they aren’t clogging up the bases.”

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