Angels look to fill void left by Figgins
Utility man will be out five to six weeks with broken fingers
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chone Figgins showed up at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Saturday with splints on the index and middle fingers of his right hand serving as visible reminders that the swiftest of Angels won't be playing third base, lashing line drives or stealing bases for five or six weeks.In Figgins' absence, Maicer Izturis and Robb Quinlan will have expanded roles sharing third, manager Mike Scioscia said, with Shea Hillenbrand -- an All-Star at third for Boston in 2002 -- focusing on being a designated hitter and backup first baseman. "Izturis and Quinlan, they're going to go in and do the job for us," Figgins said. "Guys on this team prepare themselves to play. We're fortunate enough that, somehow, guys always get to play here. Everybody stays involved." Figgins, who fractured the two digits fielding a ground ball on Wednesday, never has been this uninvolved. This is the first time in his professional career, dating to 1997 in the Colorado system, that the durable athlete has appeared on a disabled list. "I can run," Figgins said, having discovered on Friday that he had two hairline fractures, not one as originally diagnosed, in his throwing hand. "They said to give it two more days, to let the swelling go down, and I can take ground balls again. "I'm gonna still get out and run the bases and play catch with a machine to keep the vision of the ball coming hard." He must learn to control his instincts and not to bring the right hand anywhere close to a ball -- or bat -- until the healing is complete. Shown the X-ray of his hand at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Anaheim by Dr. Steven Shin, Figgins said, "I didn't know what I was looking at -- it was like a piece of thread going sideways." The index finger initially was more swollen than the middle finger, the one originally diagnosed as fractured near the top knuckle. "If it got hit again," Figgins said, relaying a message he received from Dr. Shin at the clinic, "it could do severe damage. He said, `If you get hit again and the fractures go deeper, you might have to have pins put in.'" Figgins was relieved to hear that the fractures should heal naturally and no surgery would be necessary. "Figgy is going to run the bases today and take ground balls today, just to keep his legs [in shape]," Scioscia said. "We don't want him to lose where he was. At the plate, he felt great [hitting .364 this spring]. We want to keep him where he needs to be defensively." Having had a day to absorb the impact of losing Figgins for at least 20 games, Scioscia was mapping plans to replace the man with 114 steals the past two seasons with a combination of speed (Izturis) and power (Quinlan). "Our team speed is spread out," Scioscia said. "Figgy is an electric baserunner, but with Izzy, Orlando Cabrera, Gary Matthews Jr., the team speed's gonna be there." Prized prospect Brandon Wood and Matt Brown need more time in the Minor Leagues at third, the manager said.
"They're not quite ready to get on the depth chart," Scioscia said, "but [they] will quickly get there."We have two guys who have played third base -- Izzy and Q. We'll have the depth we need opening up." Second baseman Howie Kendrick has played some third and is another option there along with Hillenbrand. Shortstop Erick Aybar has had a superb spring at shortstop while learning to play second and the outfield, and Aybar "is something we could look at. In an emergency, it could be Kendrick going over [to third] and Aybar to second." Playing exclusively at third in 2002, Hillenbrand batted .293 in 156 games with 18 homers and 83 RBIs, career highs in both categories. Signed as a free agent on Dec. 26, Hillenbrand, 31, has played 444 career games at third base with a .938 fielding percentage, compared to 365 games at first with a .992 percentage. He's a .287 career hitter. "He already knows that," Hillenbrand said, when asked if he'd reminded Scioscia of his history at third. "I can play first, third or DH. [I have] no preferences. I've played whatever role my team's wanted. It's not my decision; my job is to be prepared to play. "It's not an issue for me where I play. I've done it enough to know how to prepare myself to play in each spot. That's what's kept me here. I love to hit." Scioscia, who wants Hillenbrand's bat in the middle of the order, said, "Shea's played third before, but we want him to get comfortable playing first and DHing." Izturis, a natural shortstop, played more innings at third -- 707 1/3 -- than anyone on the club last season, committing 12 errors in 190 chances for a .936 fielding percentage. Quinlan was at third for 130 innings with a .972 fielding percentage. Figgins played 280 1/3 innings at third with an .878 percentage, but he was re-acclimating himself well to the position this spring after spending most of last season in center field. "Not playing, that's the killer part for me," Figgins said. "I've been fortunate all these years to play all the time. To have to watch is new to me."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.