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Signing Could Bolster Bullpen

Times Staff Writer

The Angels moved to shore up a potential bullpen weakness Monday, signing left-hander Yoshitaka Mizuo to a one-year contract that will pay the 35-year-old reliever $335,000 if he makes the big league team.

General Manager Bill Stoneman said Mizuo, who spent the last three years with the Seibu Lions of the Japanese League, probably would open the season at triple-A Salt Lake. But he made it clear that Mizuo would be a strong candidate to join the Angels, who do not have a left-hander in the bullpen, as soon as he is ready.

“If we thought there wasn’t a chance he could help the Anaheim Angels, we wouldn’t have signed him,” Stoneman said.

“If he’s tough against left-handers, he could give us a dimension that could fit in very well for us.”

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Mizuo is hardly overpowering -- his fastball is about 87 mph -- but he is said to have good movement on, and command of, five other pitches, a curve, slider, sinker, changeup and a “shuto,” an off-speed pitch that fades down and away from right-handed hitters.

“I like to keep the ball low, to baffle the batters as much as possible,” Mizuo said through an interpreter. “That’s my ideal pitching style.”

Mizuo appeared in only two games last season for Seibu because of a neck injury, but he has been in California and Arizona for about two months, and he worked out for Angel scouts several times at the team’s minor league complex in recent weeks.

Stoneman said Mizuo’s signing was “totally unrelated” to the loss of Brendan Donnelly, who is out indefinitely because of complications stemming from a broken nose, but Donnelly is one of the Angel right-handers who is most effective against left-handed hitters.

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Mizuo has a career 7-9 record and 3.42 earned-run average in 269 games in 12 seasons with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales (1992-94), Orix Blue Wave (1995-2000) and Seibu.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Mizuo, the Angels designated catcher Tom Gregorio for assignment.

“We have a lot of left-handers in our organization who are kids, who don’t have a lot of experience,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Hopefully, [Mizuo] has enough left where he can help us.”

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Kelvim Escobar, who was hit hard in two earlier spring starts, had his best game of the exhibition season Monday, throwing seven shutout innings in a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Escobar gave up three hits, struck out seven and walked one, retiring 21 of the 25 batters he faced.

“I’m very excited with the way I threw the ball and the command of my pitches in any count,” Escobar said after the 90-pitch outing. “My mechanics are good. I feel great.”

Escobar will pitch again Saturday night against the Dodgers in Angel Stadium and probably will start the third game of the season in Seattle, behind Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn.

Scioscia said he would name his rotation by the end of this week. John Lackey appears to have locked up the fourth spot, and Aaron Sele and Ramon Ortiz are battling for the fifth spot, with the odd man out of the rotation possibly headed to the bullpen.

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“By far, this is the toughest decision we’ve had in five years here,” Scioscia said. “The reality of it is, we know some guys are going to be disappointed, but we know it’s going to make us a better team to have this much pitching depth.”

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Second baseman Adam Kennedy fouled a ball off his right knee in the second inning and left after the knee swelled in the fifth. He is listed as day to day, and Scioscia said he would “err on the side of caution” in deciding when Kennedy will return to the lineup. ... Reliever Francisco Rodriguez developed a blister on his index finger, and Scioscia pulled him after a fastball to Sammy Sosa sailed over the head of catcher Josh Paul to the backstop in the eighth. Rodriguez may have to sit out for two or three days to give the blister time to heal. ... Catcher Bengie Molina had a double and two singles and Garret Anderson had two hits. ... The Angels reassigned catcher Wil Nieves to minor league camp.


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