Sports

Angels' Chris Iannetta ready to make clear progress

SportsLos Angeles AngelsProfessional BaseballBaseballChris IannettaJosh HamiltonTyler Skaggs

TEMPE, Ariz. — Chris Iannetta looked over to the dugout for the sign. The Angels catcher could see a hand with wiggling fingers, but he struggled to count the number of fingers.

"I couldn't tell between two and three," he said.

That is worrisome enough for anyone and quite the occupational hazard when your job involves catching and hitting baseballs at speeds approaching 100 mph. Iannetta struggled last summer to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line.

"I felt out of shape," he said. "I knew I wasn't out of shape. My reaction time was just slow. I didn't know why."

He wasn't surprised to find out he needed contact lenses. In his annual physical, he said, doctors usually would tell him he had 20-20 vision, but with "a little astigmatism." His eyes had compensated for the condition, but he had increasingly strained to make out what he used to see clearly.

"My eyes are not tense now. They're relaxed," Iannetta said. "Everything else is relaxed as a result."

He hit .225 overall last season but .286 in September, after he had gotten used to the lenses. He is batting .316 this spring, and four of his six hits have gone for extra bases. He twice flied out to deep center field on Sunday — one a sacrifice fly — for a combined 825 feet worth of outs.

The Angels could use Iannetta as a designated hitter against some left-handers, Manager Mike Scioscia said. They are likely to carry two catchers — Iannetta and Hank Conger — but the only right-handed bench candidates are outfielder Collin Cowgill and infielders Grant Green, John McDonald and Andrew Romine.

Snow days

The Angels might have no chance to win this season without 200 innings apiece from Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. None of the other three starters — Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago or Tyler Skaggs — has pitched more than 158 innings in any professional season.

"On your bad days, you have to be OK," Wilson said. "If you're bad on your bad days and you're like Jered and I at the top of the rotation, then that hoses everybody else."

In the first inning of Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners, five men reached base against Wilson, and two scored. Wilson righted himself thereafter, but he needed 91 pitches to get 15 outs.

Wilson has topped the 200-inning mark in each of his four seasons as a starter. If he can become efficient with his pitch count, he can pitch deep into games and spare a bullpen that could be used extensively when Richards, Santiago and Skaggs start. Six or seven innings per game would be good from Wilson, and eight would be great.

"Eight is a good number," Wilson said. "It's a nice round number. It's like a snowman."

Hamilton on deck

Outfielder Josh Hamilton is set to make his Cactus League debut Monday, giving him two weeks to get ready for Opening Day.

Hamilton strained his left calf three weeks ago. He is expected to be the Angels' designated hitter Monday — and the cleanup hitter and left fielder in the March 31 opener against the Mariners.

Scioscia said players generally need 40 to 60 at-bats in spring training. Hamilton got 60 at-bats last spring, in 21 games. The Angels have 12 exhibition games remaining.

If needed, the Angels can get Hamilton extra at-bats in minor league exhibitions, in which the rules are flexible. For instance, he could lead off every inning and get nine at-bats per day.

Pena on bubble

Carlos Pena, whom the Angels invited to camp as a possible backup to first baseman Albert Pujols, is batting .185, with 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats. It appears increasingly unlikely that Pena, who was released by the Houston Astros last summer, will make the Angels.

Pujols is moving well after last year's foot injury, and the Angels do not anticipate playing him very much at designated hitter. The Angels gave outfielder Kole Calhoun three innings at first base on Sunday; outfielder/DH Raul Ibanez is set to start at first in a split-squad game Monday.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter: @BillShaikin

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SportsLos Angeles AngelsProfessional BaseballBaseballChris IannettaJosh HamiltonTyler Skaggs
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