Kole Calhoun's top priority for 2 1/2 seasons has been to get on base ahead of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. The Angels right fielder will probably spend much of this season trying to drive the two in.
Manager Mike Scioscia confirmed Saturday what has become increasingly apparent, that the left-handed-hitting Calhoun will bat fifth against right-handed pitchers, with Yunel Escobar and Daniel Nava hitting first and second. Calhoun will likely bat second against left-handers.
"The most important thing in our lineup is to set the table for Mike and Albert," Scioscia said. "We also need guys to take advantage of Mike and Albert getting on, because they're our two best on-base guys. Kole fits in behind Albert very nicely against right-handers."
Calhoun, batting second, hit .256 with 26 home runs, 83 runs batted in and 78 runs last season, but his increased power came at the expense of some contact. He struck out a team-high 164 times, and his on-base percentage slipped from .325 in 2014 to .308.
Trout has finished first or second in American League most-valuable-player voting for four consecutive seasons, but made only 126 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in 2015, fewer than 129 other players. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.201 in those situations led the major leagues.
Trout had 90 RBIs last season, but if the Angels can get more traffic on the basepaths ahead of him, the center fielder could surpass 100 RBIs.
A repeat of 2015 for Escobar, who had a .375 OBP last season and has a .350 career OBP, would help. So would a bounce-back year for Nava, a switch-hitter who spent most of 2015 at triple A but has a career .370 OBP against right-handers in four-plus big league seasons.
Calhoun batting fifth would give the Angels a left-handed bat between the right-handed-hitting Pujols and C.J. Cron and ease some of the pressure on Cron to be a primary run producer.
"Escobar and Nava ahead of Mike gives us a real strong presence against right-handed pitchers," Scioscia said. "Hopefully, that will address some of the things we saw last year where we didn't set the table in front of Mike."
Pain in the neck
Jered Weaver was diagnosed with mild degenerative changes in his cervical spine and will follow up with a spine specialist Monday.
Weaver was examined by Dr. Chris Yeung, the Phoenix-based surgeon who repaired the bulging disk in Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson's lower back March 3. Weaver will continue throwing, but he will not make Monday's scheduled start.
"It's not alarming because Jered is not in a lot of pain," General Manager Billy Eppler said. "It's more like a stiffness that has limited his range of motion."
Weaver, whose fastball topped out at 81 mph in Wednesday's game against the Dodgers, underwent an MRI test Thursday but has played catch every day since. He participated in defensive drills Saturday.
Degenerative changes in the spine are normal as people age, especially for a pitcher with the mileage of Weaver, a 33-year-old right-hander who has thrown 1,847 innings in 10 seasons.
Such injuries can often be treated with physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. Eppler said surgery has not been discussed.
"The good news is he's not in pain, and he's allowed to continue throwing," Eppler said. "The degenerative changes, those are real, but we don't have all of the information. That's why we're going to send him to a spine specialist for some tests before putting him on a treatment program."
Owner Arte Moreno said in December that one reason he did not pursue any high-priced free-agent left fielders over the off-season was that "there is a possibility" the competitive balance tax (CBT) threshold could be reduced in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement this year.
But players union chief Tony Clark, who met with the Angels on Saturday as part of his spring-training rounds, rejected that suggestion.
The luxury-tax threshold has risen from $117 million in 2003 to $189 million in 2014, and has not decreased from one year to the next.
"There is nothing that would suggest that, with an industry that is growing, that going backwards in that regard makes sense," Clark said. "The CBT has historically grown as the industry has grown."
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