Angels shortstop Erick Aybar is trying to jell with a new second baseman

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar is trying to jell with a new second baseman
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar avoids the slide of the Royals' Eric Hosmer during a game in October. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick played together so long that spring training was almost a formality for the double-play combination.

"After the first couple of workouts, they were in sync with everything," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Those guys could do cutoffs and relays blindfolded."

Not this spring. Kendrick, the Angels second baseman since 2007, was traded to the Dodgers in December, and Aybar, the Angels shortstop since 2007, began camp with eyes wide open.

With Josh Rutledge, Grant Green and Johnny Giavotella competing for the second base job, Aybar is breaking in not one but three double-play partners this spring.


"The team will make the decision on who stays and plays in the middle with me, but I feel good about these guys," Aybar said after practice Tuesday. "I've talked to them about where I like them to throw me the ball. So far, everyone looks good."

Rutledge, acquired from Colorado in December, said on-field chemistry with Aybar began off the field, with conversations in the clubhouse before daily workouts. The real tests begin Thursday, when the Angels open exhibition play against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Everything will get better with time and more repetitions," Rutledge said. "Erick is very similar to other guys I've played with as far as where he likes his feeds, why he likes them that way."

Kendrick has a strong throwing arm, so he took relay throws from right-center field. But Aybar has a stronger arm than Green, Rutledge and Giavotella, so he may take those throws this season.

"Erick's challenge is to find the little nuances of every second baseman and get acclimated to that," Scioscia said. "He has a lot of things he has to mesh with defensively, but he'll adjust."

First baseman Albert Pujols likes to play off the line and will need game experience with each second baseman to determine how far toward the hole he can play.

There will be adjustments for center fielder Mike Trout and right fielder Kole Calhoun, as well. What range will the second basemen have on popups to shallow center? Will they cover as much ground toward the right-field line as Kendrick?

"Howie was really good coming down the line, so Kole could play off the line because he knew he didn't have to get to that little miss-hit," Scioscia said. "We're going to have to see how much range each second baseman has and if we need more coverage from the outfielders."

Green might have a slight edge early in camp because he's familiar with the defensive system and started 39 games at second base for the Angels over the last two seasons.

But Green has played only 88 big league games, batting .259. Rutledge, a career .259 hitter, has played 266 big league games in three seasons, and Giavotella, a career .238 hitter, played 125 games for the Kansas City Royals in four years.

"It's a competition, and that should bring out the best in all of us," Giavotella said. "It's a challenge I've had before, competing for a job, so I just have to worry about the things I can control, which is getting better every day and not comparing myself with others."

None of the three is expected to match the production of Kendrick, a career .292 hitter who batted cleanup last September. Whoever wins the job will need to play steady defense and not be a liability with the bat. The runner-up will likely be the team's utility infielder.

Aybar and Kendrick were teammates at double A and triple A, and formed baseball's second-longest running double-play combination.

But nothing lasts forever in this game, as Kendrick reminded Aybar when they bumped into each other a few weeks ago at Tempe, Ariz.

"He told me, 'That's baseball,' " Aybar said. "One day we're here, the next day we don't know where we're at."

Short hops

Scioscia was pleased to see a pitch clock installed Tuesday above the outfield fence in Tempe Diablo Stadium. As part of an effort to improve the pace of play this season, time between innings will be cut to 2 minutes 25 seconds for locally televised games and 2:45 for nationally televised games. "We're losing a lot of time to some dead time between innings," Scioscia said. "We need to get this game going a little quicker." Some relievers will have to adjust their warmup routines by throwing more in the bullpen, "but there's no doubt if you hustle in from the bullpen at a decent pace, you'll have plenty of time to complete your warmups and be ready to go," Scioscia said. … Garrett Richards, recovering from left knee surgery, is scheduled to throw his sixth bullpen of the spring Wednesday. … The arrival of Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who signed for $8 million in January, has been delayed by visa issues in the Dominican Republic.