SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Angels outfielder J.B. Shuck started the spring with only four hits in his first 23 at-bats and has a good idea why.
"I wanted to come in and prove that last year wasn't a fluke," he said. "I think I just put a little bit too much pressure on myself."
Shuck -- a scrappy 26-year-old left-handed hitter who was let go by the Astros in November 2012 -- enjoyed a surprising breakout season last year, winning a job off the Angels' bench in Spring Training and batting .293 while leading American League rookies in plate appearances (478).
That productive Shuck has re-emerged lately, with five hits -- including two triples -- in his last two Cactus League games.
Shuck recently watched video with new hitting coach Don Baylor and noticed he was "jumpy" at the plate and expanding his strike zone, all indications that he's trying too hard. Since then, he's "slowed it down, and just got back to getting on time and hitting good pitches."
Shuck has reason to put pressure on himself, though -- because he still has a job to win.
Despite his impressive 2013, it was Kole Calhoun who got an everyday job when center fielder Peter Bourjos was traded to the Cardinals over the offseason. And Shuck still has to beat out the likes of Collin Cowgill, Brennan Boesch and Matt Long to secure a job off the bench this spring.
"That's part of the game," Shuck said. "If things were just given to you, you wouldn't see guys play as well. I kind of like the challenge, I like knowing that I have to come in and compete. I can't really just sit back and relax in that sense. I have to come in and bring it every day, and if anything it makes you better."
Trout looking to pounce early at plate
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Few guys have been in as many deep counts as Mike Trout these last two years. Only eight of them have had more plate appearances with a full count; only six have hit with two strikes more often. The approach is a credit to Trout's comfort with two strikes, but it's one that also leads to a lot of walks and strikeouts, limiting the star-studded outfielder's ability to drive in runs.
This year, it'll be different.
"I think the biggest thing, for me, is being aggressive early," Trout said. "A lot of counts last year, I'd be taking, seeing pitches. But I'm going to be aggressive this year. Instead of just flipping one over for strike one, or 2-0 strike one, I'm going to be up there hacking, I'm going to be up there swinging."
Playing against the Rockies at Salt River Fields on Saturday, a 4-4- tie, Trout struck out in his first at-bat, grounded out to third in his second and noticed he was out in front. His third time up, he committed to keeping his hands in, even if it meant getting jammed, and then took an inside fastball and hit it way over the center-field fence for a two-run homer that probably traveled 450 feet.
Trout's batting .433 this spring, but most gratifying to him is that he's struck out only four times in 32 plate appearances.
In his brief Major League career, strikeouts have been the only aspect of his hitting that could deserve criticism. Trout has fanned 275 times these last two years, a mark that's tied for 23rd in the Majors and was mainly a byproduct of taking a lot of early, get-me-over strikes. Trout jumped on the first pitch only 35 times last year, which was less than 215 Major Leaguers.
That number could go way up this year.
"It depends on the day," said Trout, who was also hit by a pitch and stole a base on Saturday. "If I'm seeing some pitches, and I have a good feel for the guy, I'm going to go up there and hack."
De La Rosa cleared to resume throwing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Dane De La Rosa thought the absolute worst on March 6, when he got hit around in his second outing of the spring and then exited with what was later diagnosed as a right forearm strain. The following eight days, spent strengthening his forearm and waiting for clearance to pick up a baseball again, only compounded his fears.
Saturday morning finally brought some relief.
Angels doctors cleared De La Rosa to restart his throwing program and, in doing so, basically ruled out a serious injury to an area that when injured can lead to Tommy John surgery. He'll play catch again on Sunday and restart the progression in earnest.
"Just being able to tell you guys a day that I can throw is ... great," De La Rosa said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said it's "definitely a possibility" that De La Rosa could be ready by Opening Day on March 31, since he's a short-inning reliever who had already built himself up to game mode and has only been idle for a little more than a week.
But it's more likely that De La Rosa will be placed on the disabled list when camp breaks, just to make sure he has enough time to get ready.
"I think you want to take a little more time, although it's not going to be that long," Scioscia said. "Just the progression of getting your arm activated, getting into a little bit of long toss, getting on a mound, seeing how you recover. So, we'll see how that process goes. But we're not ruling out the start of the season."
De La Rosa, the 31-year-old journeyman reliever who was once released from an independent league team, enjoyed a breakout season last year, posting a 2.86 ERA while appearing in 75 games and being the Angels' primary setup man down the stretch.
All the therapy he's done these last few days, particularly with an electronic muscle massager, has his arm feeling better than it has in a while.
"It's awesome," De La Rosa said. "All the little things that were kind of like a hindrance last year, just little pains or whatever, just kind of rolled over this year. So being able to take care of it, and have a fresh elbow going into the season, is a beautiful thing."
Hamilton running, nearing Cactus debut
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton ran the bases at the Angels' Spring Training complex for the first time on Saturday morning, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he "felt great" doing so.
Running the bases is the final step in Hamilton's recovery from a strained left calf, which he suffered during a baserunning drill on Feb. 25. If he doesn't feel uncommon soreness on Sunday, the Angels' outfielder could make his Cactus League debut as early as Monday -- the Angels' third and final split-squad day, with the home game coming against the Giants.
But Scioscia was non-committal when asked specifically about a Monday return, saying: "We're looking at at least one recovery day, and then we'll see where he is. But early next week is when we're anticipating him being ready to play."
• Outfielder Brennan Boesch, who's fighting for a spot off the bench, was ejected by home-plate umpire Jeff Morrow in the second inning of Saturday's 4-4 tie with the Rockies for arguing balls and strikes. Scioscia didn't think it was warranted, saying Boesch was "walking away and wasn't even looking at the umpire. I think you just had a young umpire who wasn't very experienced at how to handle something like that."
• In order to stay on his once-every-five-days schedule, Garrett Richards will pitch in a Minor League game during the Angels' off-day on Tuesday. In his first three Cactus League starts, Richards has a 5.40 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.
• Hector Santiago and Joe Blanton will start on the Angels' third and final split-squad day Monday, but Scioscia hasn't decided who will pitch at home (against the Giants) and who will travel to Mesa, Ariz., to face the Cubs.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.