Brown among the final cuts

The Angels made their final cuts of the spring after Saturday’s 4-3 exhibition win over the San Diego Padres, and there were no surprises.

Infielders Sean Rodriguez, Brandon Wood and Matt Brown will all start the season in triple-A Salt Lake, with Brown’s demotion coming only hours after Manager Mike Scioscia presented him with the Fred Haney Award as the team’s outstanding player in spring training.

Brown hit .468 and led the team with 19 runs batted in.

“This guy’s opened a lot of our eyes,” Scioscia said.


Also going down were catchers Bobby Wilson and Ryan Budde and outfielder Reggie Willits.

“All these guys are really just waiting for an opportunity,” Scioscia said. “All these guys can be everyday players in the major leagues. They all had great springs.”

The moves leave the team with a four-man bench of Gary Matthews Jr., Maicer Izturis, Robb Quinlan and Jeff Mathis.

Scioscia, who selected his five-man starting rotation Friday, filled out his bullpen by choosing Jason Bulger and rookie Kevin Jepsen to join Brian Fuentes, Jose Arredondo, Justin Speier, Darren Oliver and Scot Shields.


Winning ways

Before they left, Willits, Rodriguez and Wilson gave Scioscia something to remember them by, keying a two-run game-winning rally in the ninth inning.

Willits started the comeback with a one-out single, then raced home from second base on a sacrifice bunt to tie the score. Wilson ended the game five pitches later with a single that drove in Rodriguez from third base.

The rally not only gave the Angels a baseball-best 26 victories -- against only eight losses -- this spring but it also got Fuentes off the hook after he blew a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning, giving up a solo home run to Nick Hundley, then committing two throwing errors to set up a tiebreaking sacrifice fly to right field by rookie Everth Cabrera.

Fuentes, a notoriously slow starter, has gotten off to a particularly rough start with his new team, giving up eight runs in 7 2/3 innings.

The Angels got a solo homer from Quinlan, his fifth of the spring, and Vladimir Guerrero had a run-scoring single and scored a run.

The Angels led baseball in spring training wins (19) and regular-season victories (100) last year and haven’t had a losing spring since 2003.


Comeback player

Shane Loux didn’t have to sweat out Saturday’s roster moves since he had already been selected the starter for Friday’s game with the Boston Red Sox. But that didn’t make the congratulatory handshake from pitching coach Mike Butcher any less special.

“It’s a big deep breath in a lot of ways,” he said. “A weight off my shoulders.”

Less than two years ago, Loux, a former second-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers, was out of baseball. After failing to win a job in the independent Atlantic League, he returned home to Arizona and got a job coaching kids at a baseball training center before his boss, calling in a favor from an Angels scout, arranged for the team to give Loux a tryout.

Loux threw well enough for the Angels to sign him and by last August he was back in the majors for the first time since 2003.

Now he’s on an opening-day roster for the first time.

“It just means more, having been through every level and been released and been through everything that baseball has to offer,” said Loux, 29, who is starting his 11th professional season but has appeared in only 21 major league games. “I’m looking forward to the red, white and blue banners, the national anthem, the flyover, lining up on the [base] line.

“Just little stuff like that that I watched on TV all the time and never got to be a part of.”


Now it’s for real

After today’s optional workout, the Angels start playing for keeps Monday when they open the regular season against Oakland. And though he hasn’t played in a game that counted since October, outfielder Torii Hunter said it won’t be hard to flip the switch.

“The feeling, it’s starting to change,” he said. “I’m just trying to get focused now. I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling that I have that it’s time to go.”

Hunter, like many other players, said the action in regular-season games unfolds a lot faster -- especially on opening day.

“It’s special,” he said. “Spring training, you know it doesn’t count. It doesn’t go on the back of your baseball card. But once the season starts, it’s like there’s a different adrenaline, different focus.

“Every at-bat, every pitch counts.”