In a four-deep outfield, Rivera is a fifth wheel

Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Juan Rivera could start in the outfield for the Atlanta Braves, or the New York Mets, or the San Francisco Giants. Or he could sit on the bench for the Angels, a scenario that does not bother him.

Rivera hit .310 with 23 home runs two years ago, then sat out most of last year after breaking his leg during winter ball. He is signed for $2.025 million this season, a relative bargain.

The Angels are juggling Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr. among three outfield spots and designated hitter, with Reggie Willits also available.


“Teams have called. They see the outfield situation just like you see it,” said General Manager Tony Reagins, not speaking specifically about Rivera. “We’re not going to unload or give away talented people. If it makes our organization better, we’ll look at it.”

The Angels could trade Rivera for pitching depth, given that Kelvim Escobar and Chris Bootcheck will start the season on the disabled list and John Lackey and Scot Shields are fighting nagging injuries. For now, Reagins said, the Angels do not need to add pitching.

“We think our pitching will be fine,” he said.

Rivera’s spring average stands at .364 after the Angels’ 11-1 rout of the Chicago White Sox on Friday. He can be a free agent after the season, but he says he has not asked for a trade and is not concerned that a bench spot this summer could diminish his value come winter.

He also said he was wary of a trade under the premise he would play regularly with another team, because the New York Yankees traded him to the Montreal Expos in 2003 and told him he would play every day with his new team. He did not.

He has worked out at first base this spring, at the Angels’ request.

“He has too good a bat not to find a way to get him in the lineup,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Said Rivera: “I’ll try to have a good season and see what happens after this year. I like the Angels. I’d like to stay here for my whole career. There’s no pressure from the owner, no pressure from the fans, no pressure from the media.”

Catching flak

An otherwise placid crowd loudly booed Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski before every at-bat. He’s still a villain to Angels fans, 2 1/2 years after he took first base on a disputed third strike to spark a White Sox rally in the American League championship series.

“I love it,” Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen said. “You bring 50,000 people to boo A.J., and I’ll take that any day if they’re watching baseball.

“A.J. gets booed everywhere. A.J. gets booed on Mother’s Day in his own house. We’re used to that.”

Garland vs. the Sox

Angels starter Jon Garland faced his old team for the first time, pitching three innings and giving up one run, a home run by Jermaine Dye. . . . Closer Francisco Rodriguez made his spring debut, pitching a perfect inning and striking out Dye and Pierzynski. . . . The Angels’ team earned-run average is 3.09. No other Cactus League team has an ERA under 4.00. . . . Willits had three hits, including two doubles. . . . Pitcher Jon Bachanov, 19, the Angels’ top draft choice last year, will sit out this season after Tommy John surgery. . . . The Angels sent catchers Hank Conger and Anel De Los Santos and infielder Ryan Mount to minor league camp.