The Angels had a dismal spring last year, losing a major league-worst 20 games. And that lethargy carried over to a regular season in which the team spent just one day above .500.
It's been a different story this spring, with the Angels' 7-5 win over the Dodgers in Thursday's Freeway Series opener running their exhibition winning streak to nine games. And that has the team hoping success, too, will carry over into the regular season.
"We want to finish spring strong," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "It's important to start hot in April. Start off fast and put pressure on other teams.
"We haven't done it in two or three years here. So it's time."
But Manager Mike Scioscia, who has spent more springs playing baseball than the 32-year-old Hamilton has spent breathing, isn't so sure there's a connection between spring records and regular-season results.
"Some springs we've absolutely had great spring trainings and struggled at the start. Some spring trainings we've been OK and started off good," he said. "So I don't think there's any rhyme or reason."
A better barometer than won-lost records, Scioscia said, is how the team pitched and hit during the spring.
And no team entered Thursday with both a higher batting average and more runs scored than his Angels, who also had the fourth-best spring ERA at 3.47, more than three runs better than last year's mark of 6.56.
"All I know is right now we're pitching much better than we did at any time last spring. And that gives us, hopefully, some confidence as we turn the page on spring training into the regular season," Scioscia said.
Scioscia said the Angels spent more time in the batting cage this year, which may have helped his hitters. He credited a more aggressive approach from coach Mike Butcher with turning the pitchers around.
"Our pitching staff, from our starters to our bullpen, are further ahead now than they've been in the last four or five years," Scioscia said. "The starters are where they should be on the pitch count. We haven't had really any setbacks in that regard. And our bullpen has established a little bit of depth with some guys throwing the ball very well."
But reliever Kevin Jepsen, one of the pitchers Butcher has helped, said there's been more to the Angels' turnaround than that. After back-to-back springs in which the team had to make room for Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Hamilton while losing clubhouse leader Torii Hunter, there was little upheaval in camp this season.
"It was pretty mellow," Jepsen said. "For the most part, we're the same team. We've got a lot of the same core guys. It just feels like we've been playing together longer.
"It's a better feeling, a better vibe when you walk in the clubhouse. Certain times over the last few years you walk in and you feel like it's an uphill battle every day. Now we've just got to play our game. We know what we can do and we just go out there and play."
Relievers Dane De La Rosa and Sean Burnett progressed in their comebacks from forearm pain, with De La Rosa making 11 pitches in a minor league game in Arizona and Burnett throwing a bullpen session at Dodger Stadium.
"At least we've taken a step forward," Scioscia said.
Both pitchers are expected to start the season on the disabled list.
Third baseman David Freese, scratched from his last start Tuesday with quadriceps tightness, was back in the lineup Thursday.
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