Camp opening with new-look roster
Pineiro, Matsui, Rodney join Angels as Shields returns
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Absence makes the heart grow hungrier.
That is certainly the case with Scot Shields, who rejoins his Angels teammates on Thursday for the opening of Spring Training with the first official workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium for pitchers, catchers and players recovering from injuries.
"Watching on TV last year ... it hurt," Shields said, having recovered from June surgery to repair his left knee. "I'm ready to get back and hopefully do what I know I can do. I've never really missed time like that before. I went on the DL at the start of the '08 season and didn't really want to do that, but it didn't last long."
Shields, one of the game's most durable and dependable setup men for five seasons, plans to be among an assortment of weapons in manager Mike Scioscia's bullpen as the Angels bid for their fourth consecutive American League West title in a division that has witnessed dramatic change over the winter months.
The Angels were certainly not immune to all the alterations. They enter the 2010 season needing to replace the collective efforts of of John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. and Kelvim Escobar.
Having secured more regular-season wins, 197, than any team in the Majors over the past two seasons, Scioscia -- the 2009 AL Manager of the Year -- will be looking for some exclamation marks in response to the questions from the likes of Hideki Matsui, Joel Pineiro, Fernando Rodney, Brian Stokes, Brandon Wood and others seeking prominent roles.
"We lost some terrific players that were here for a long time," Scioscia said on Wednesday as the players went through physical exams. "We have to focus on what we have and not compare it to last year's team.
"We have a terrific ballclub. Some guys' shoes are going to be difficult to fill. It's very obvious what Chone Figgins, Vlad, John Lackey did. Darren Oliver is a significant piece we lost who was incredible for us. There are significant holes, but I think they'll be filled as we move along and we'll be as strong as we've been."
Pineiro is expected to slide into the rotation spot vacated by Lackey, the club's ace since 2006, while Rodney and Stokes bid for bullpen roles in the absence of Oliver, a staff anchor the past three seasons.
Pineiro, signed to a two-year free-agent deal after going 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA for St. Louis, joins Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana in a potentially formidable rotation.
Brian Fuentes, Rodney and Shields, augmented by Kevin Jepsen, Jason Bulger, Matt Palmer and Stokes, could give Scioscia one of his deepest bullpens.
Matsui, 2009 World Series MVP for the Yankees, brings his formidable bat and discipline to the offense as the primary designated hitter, a role occupied last season by Guerrero.
Wood, with Maicer Izturis offering proven support, gets first call for the third-base job vacated by Figgins, whose leadoff role is expected to be shared by shortstop Erick Aybar and multi-talented Izturis. Izturis also will see some time at second base, a job he shared with Howard Kendrick last season.
While Scioscia said he anticipates Izturis contributing heavily in a variety of roles in the infield, he'll have to wait and see if Matsui's physical condition enables him to play in the outfield. Matsui is expected to occupy the designated-hitter role most of the time.
"We'll have to see how he feels," Scioscia said of Matsui, who has been limited to DH duties primarily in recent seasons by knee issues. "We need Hideki to hit in the middle of our lineup more than we need him in the outfield. We'll see how his knee reacts. We'll ease him into an outfield role in Spring Training.'
Scioscia also will take a cautious approach with Shields, keeping him on flat ground until the medical staff clears him to test the knee on a mound.
"All the indications are he feels great," Scioscia said. "We have a very dynamic bullpen that can shorten a game."
Scioscia emphasized that Fuentes, who led the Majors with 48 saves in 55 chances, is his closer. The manager added that Rodney -- who converted 37 of 38 save opportunities for Detroit last season -- stands ready to pitch the ninth along with Shields "if Brian needs a day off."
When Scioscia gets down to business with his catchers in his daily sessions, he'll have a comfort zone with all the receivers.
Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have shared the catching job for the past 2 1/2 seasons and figure to do so again as Bobby Wilson, Ryan Budde and Hank Conger bid to impress their manager, one of the acknowledged masters of the position.
Position players report on Feb. 22 and engage in the first full-squad workout the next day.
The exhibition schedule opens on March 4 with the Chicago White Sox visiting Tempe Diablo Stadium at 2:05 p.m. PT.
Among the 28 non-roster invitees to Major League camp are 11 pitchers and four catchers.
The pitchers handed invitations to rub elbows with the big leaguers include right-handers Ryan Brasier, Travis Chick, Ryan Chaffee, Tyler Chatwood, Michael Kohn, Tommy Mendoza, Kevin Nabors and Francisco Rodriguez, along with southpaws Trevor Reckling, Will Smith and Andrew Taylor.
Conger, one of the game's premier catching prospects, will be joined by fellow receivers Anel de los Santos, Alberto Rosario and Brian Walker.
Scioscia always gives full value to the development of pitcher-catcher relationships, a connection he considers pivotal to any club's success.
"Camp is extremely important in many respects, and that is one of them," Scioscia said. "Developing and strengthening that pitcher-catcher bond is always something we emphasize from the first day of camp on through the season."
While Wood takes most of the focus among position players, Kendry Morales will be able to relax after a brilliant 2009 season at first base. Replacing Mark Teixeira, Morales batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs, finishing fifth in the AL MVP race.
In Aybar, Kendrick and Izturis, the Angels have exceptional defense, offense and depth through the middle of the infield. Freddy Sandoval and veteran Robb Quinlan, signed to a Minor League contract with an invitation to camp, are hoping to carve out roster spots.
Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu return to form a solid outfield. Reggie Willits, Terry Evans and Chris Pettit will be competing for Matthews' former role along with veteran Quinlan, who has graced the Angels' roster since 2003 and is a .281 career hitter.
Napoli brings a booming bat to the lineup when he catches, with Mathis -- a breakout offensive force in the postseason -- acquiring a reputation as one of the league's premier defensive catchers.
Hoping to make it a threesome is Wilson, who is out of Minor League options and must be kept on the 25-man roster. Wood, Evans and Stokes also are out of options.
"We feel the final product," Scioscia said, "is going to be a deep offensive team, a good defensive team and an outstanding pitching staff."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.