Shields is encouraged by his spring debut

Times Staff Writer

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Four pitches into his first appearance of the spring -- all balls to Alex Gordon, none near the strike zone -- Scot Shields was perplexed.

“That first hitter,” the Angels set-up man said, “I don’t know what the heck happened there.”

Shields made a quick adjustment, lowering his arm slot and locating the strike zone, and of his 16 pitches, nine were strikes.


Though he gave up a two-run home run to Damon Hollins on a shoulder-high fastball, Shields was encouraged by his one-inning outing in Thursday’s 6-5 exhibition loss to the Kansas City Royals.

“It was a good day for the most part -- the ball was coming out of my hand in mid-season form, and there was no pain,” said Shields, who was slowed this spring by a sore shoulder.

“The home run was such a mistake, it was so high up, most guys wouldn’t get much on it. He tomahawked it.

“But overall, I felt awesome. It would have been nice not to give up a home run, but I felt good.”

Closer Francisco Rodriguez also said he “felt really strong” despite giving up a run and two hits in the fifth, his first blemish of the spring after going one-two-three in his first two outings.

Rodriguez, who threw primarily fastballs and changeups, had command problems -- of his 22 pitches, only 11 were strikes -- but showed good velocity.

“He was trying to be too fine,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He was working on his changeup and couldn’t find the release point.”

Double feature

Angels starter Joe Saunders threw four scoreless innings, giving up two hits and walking two, and the left-hander was backed by some timely defense.

With two on and one out in the first, second baseman Howie Kendrick fielded Billy Butler’s hard grounder and flipped to shortstop Erick Aybar to start a double play.

With runners on first and third and one out in the third, Esteban German grounded to third baseman Chone Figgins, who threw to Kendrick to start a double play.

“With our infield, I said, ‘Here, hit it on the ground, we’ll make the play,’ ” Saunders said. “With runners in scoring position, they got me out of some jams. It’s nice having that confidence in them.”

Rookie mistake

What can Brown do for you? Plenty, if you forget to pack your game jersey in your bag before boarding the bus for Surprise, as veteran center fielder Torii Hunter did.

Hunter borrowed teammate Dee Brown’s No. 32 jersey for his first at-bat. A clubhouse attendant drove Hunter’s No. 48 jersey from Tempe to Surprise in time for Hunter’s second at-bat. Hunter followed Gary Matthews Jr.’s run-scoring double in the fifth with an RBI single.

Scioscia doesn’t impose fines for such transgressions, but “he’ll be buying some lunch,” he said of Hunter.

On the mend

Chris Bootcheck’s recovery from a strained left rib-cage muscle is progressing quicker than anticipated, but it’s still doubtful the reliever, injured March 6, will be ready by opening day.

“I wouldn’t rule it out, but the emphasis needs to be on being 100%, so when you’re asked to go out there and help the team you can do it without holding back or guarding anything,” said Bootcheck, who extended his long-toss regimen to 110 feet. “That’s the most important thing.”

Power play

Aybar, who is battling Maicer Izturis for the starting shortstop job, showed some pop from the right side, blasting a solo home run off starter Jorge De La Rosa in the third inning. Terry Evans hit a solo homer in the eighth.