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Is Central Location in Erstad’s Near-Future?

Times Staff Writer

First baseman Darin Erstad has not been told he will start in center field when the Angels play Oakland on Tuesday night, but the wheels for such a move -- which would displace the struggling Steve Finley and clear first base for rookie Casey Kotchman -- have been set in motion.

Erstad was instructed by Manager Mike Scioscia before Sunday’s game to extend the length of his long-toss routine so he can stretch out his arm in preparation for a move. Erstad played long-toss with his outfield glove.

Asked how quickly he could make the transition, Erstad, who won Gold Glove awards as an outfielder in 2000 and 2002, said, “I don’t know ... we’ll find out. I’ve done it before, and it hasn’t been that big of a deal to switch.”

Erstad said it’s tougher going from the outfield to the infield because the game moves at a faster pace, and the throws from first require a variety of arm angles. Erstad had arm problems from 1997-99, when he went back and forth between the infield and outfield.

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That’s why if the Angels move him, they want to commit him to the outfield for the rest of this year.

There has been concern that Erstad, who had hamstring problems in 2003 and 2004, would be more injury prone in the outfield, “but my leg injuries have been related to baserunning, not defense,” he said.

As for Erstad’s aggressive -- and borderline reckless -- style of play, Angel third-base coach Ron Roenicke said: “Darin dives no matter where he plays. At first base it’s a little easier because he’s not running all out. It’s not that he gets hurt much when he dives, but going full speed and diving; that’s more of a concern.”

There’s also a chance Erstad could move to left field, with Garret Anderson, who has had knee and lower-back injuries, moving to designated hitter. There has been internal debate over which move would most improve the team.

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If Erstad plays center, utility player Chone Figgins would play third and the left-handed-hitting Kotchman, who has six home runs in 66 at-bats, would play first. Against tough left-handers, Scioscia could start Robb Quinlan at first.

“There are some options that are important for us to look at as we get down to the last 30 games,” said Scioscia, who held lengthy meetings with the coaches Sunday. “You’re always kicking around ideas.”

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Finley, who is batting .215 with nine home runs and 48 runs batted in and is in the first year of a two-year, $14-million contract, says he has no intention of retiring after this season, and he’s convinced age has nothing to do with his struggles.

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“You just don’t go from what I did last year [.271, 36 homers, 94 RBIs] to this year,” Finley, 40, said. “I feel terrible that I’ve let everyone down. ... But I feel healthy and have complete confidence in my abilities. I’m just waiting for that one click.”

Finley said he had his eyes checked in early August, and his vision was 20-15, but he had some minor problems with depth perception that his doctor believed were related to Finley’s viewing of movies on his computer during train rides from his Del Mar-area home to the park and on plane rides.

Finley says he has every intention of “working out like a maniac” this winter, but he will add some drills to improve his vision.

“I work hard anyway, but I want to add a few things and take it to a higher level,” he said.

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Kelvim Escobar’s command problems continued Sunday in his second rehabilitation start. The right-hander, who had elbow surgery in late June, gave up one run and two hits, struck out four and walked four for triple-A Salt Lake against Colorado Springs. He threw 68 pitches and will make at least one more rehab start before rejoining the Angels.


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