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Willits ready to go after latest surgery

Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- First went the appendix, which Reggie Willits had removed during his rookie-league season in 2003. Next went the gall bladder, which the Angels outfielder had removed last month, following a superb rookie season.

Forgive Willits if he gets a little jittery walking past the training room this spring.

“They say I should have a full recovery, that the gall bladder is like your appendix” in that you can function without it, said Willits, who reported to camp with pitchers and catchers Thursday. “But I don’t know what else I can have taken out and still live.”

Willits, not expected to make the team last season, came off the bench in late April and was such a spark in the leadoff spot that he played in 136 games, hitting .293 with a .391 on-base percentage, 74 runs and 27 stolen bases.

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His performance seems even more impressive in light of the stomach ailments he battled all year.

“I had really bad acid reflux and sharp pain under the bottom of my rib cage,” said Willits, who will compete for a reserve outfield spot. “I got it checked out a few times, but not extensively.”

More thorough tests revealed that Willits’ gall bladder had grown attached to his small intestine, so doctors on Jan. 7 removed the organ, which stores bile until the body needs it for digestion.

The defective gall bladder “zapped my energy and caused me to break down quicker than I normally would,” said Willits, who is running and hitting but will be limited early in camp. “But I feel 100 times better since my surgery.”

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It wasn’t so much the criticism of Manager Mike Scioscia that motivated Jered Weaver to begin his off-season conditioning program almost two months before he did last winter.

It was opening 2007 on the disabled list because of biceps tendinitis, which could have been prevented had Weaver done more to strengthen his shoulder before the season.

“I let my team down, and I let the whole organization down by not being ready to go,” he said. “That was the most disappointing part about it.”

Weaver made his 2007 debut on April 17 and did not miss a start, going 13-7 with a 3.91 earned run average. This season, his goal is to go wire to wire.

So, he began working his core and legs on Nov. 1. Last winter, he started training around Christmas, and when he began throwing, his shoulder tightened up, setting him back all spring.

“Baseball is what I love to do, and when it gets taken away from you, that kicks you in the butt,” Weaver said. “I did some things differently this winter, and I think I benefited from them.”

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Scioscia did not seem overly concerned about Erick Aybar’s shaky winter-league play in the Dominican Republic, where the Angels’ leading candidate to replace traded shortstop Orlando Cabrera committed 17 errors in 58 games, including the playoffs.

“He wasn’t as consistent as we know he can be, but we have every confidence he’s going to play shortstop at a very high level,” Scioscia said. “But we obviously have to see it on the field.”

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Though a number of free agents are available, Scioscia said the Angels have no plans to seek outside help to bolster a rotation that is expected to open without sore-shouldered Kelvim Escobar.

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Pitcher Ervin Santana’s trip from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. was delayed by visa problems, and the right-hander is expected to be a day or two late to camp.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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