Manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday morning that the Angels will open the season with four starting pitchers, meaning both Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, who entered camp competing for the fifth rotation spot, will probably start at triple-A Salt Lake.
Heaney, the highly touted left-hander who was acquired from Miami via the Dodgers in December, then took the Tempe Diablo Stadium mound and performed like a pitcher in need of seasoning, giving up six runs and eight hits in five innings of an 8-6 exhibition loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
"It's disappointing," Heaney, 23, said. "I came into camp wanting to make the team. I didn't come in trying to break camp with triple-A. It's not up to me to make decisions. I want to make decisions easy for them, and I don't feel like I've performed well enough to do that."
Heaney feels strong physically and has been happy with his fastball command, but his tendency to fall behind in counts and his inability to put hitters away when he's ahead have led to trouble. He has given up 19 earned runs and 29 hits, including four home runs, in 19 spring innings, striking out 16 and walking seven.
"There's too many 0-and-2 counts that went to 3-2," Scioscia said. "He got ahead, but he wasn't able to make pitches to put hitters away. As counts got back into the hitters' favor, they're seeing more and more pitches, and they hit the ball hard."
The Angels will open the season with a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago and an eight-man bullpen that is expected to include long men Drew Rucinski and Jose Alvarez. Because of an off-day after the third game, they won't need a fifth starter until April 14 in Texas.
Garrett Richards, who is recovering from left knee surgery and has looked strong in an intrasquad game and two minor league starts, will open on the disabled list. The Angels can back-date the DL stint to March 27, meaning the right-hander could be activated on April 11.
But the Angels have shown no inclination to rush Richards, so it's possible Heaney or Tropeano could be called up for that April 14 start, or Rucinski or Alvarez could draw the assignment.
"With Garrett, you're going one outing at a time," Scioscia said. "How does he rebound? He has rebounded well so far, and that's a huge sign he can get to the next step. And if he has a little setback where he's a little stiff, you'll adjust and go from there."
Heaney, Tropeano and all of the Angels' triple-A pitchers should find conditions at Salt Lake a little more hospitable.
The Angels, following the lead of the Colorado Rockies and triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, have installed humidors, which add moisture, to store baseballs in their stadium at Salt Lake, which is about 4,200 feet above sea level and is far more hitter-friendly than pitcher-friendly.
"The numbers in Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs … you can throw up a 4.50 earned-run average in the Pacific Coast League, and you're really doing something," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "This will allow us to develop our pitchers better — it gives them the ability to feel the ball like they do in Colorado."
In thin air at higher altitudes, balls travel farther off the bat, and the breaking balls of pitchers are not always as sharp. That can affect a pitcher's approach, as well as his confidence.
"You want guys to go out there and attack the strike zone," Dipoto said. "Sometimes in those environments, guys will pick and nibble, pitch away from the stuff they need to develop and go with what they know because they don't want to give up the crooked number. Then, you're not really developing the player."