The next challenge for Angels pitcher John Lackey could be coming up with an encore.
The right-hander was nearly perfect in his first minor league rehab start Tuesday, giving up just a hit and a walk in 4 2/3 innings.
Pitching for the triple-A Salt Lake Bees against a Tacoma lineup dotted with former major leaguers, Lackey retired the first nine batters in order.
Then after a walk leading off the fourth, he set down five of the next six Tacoma hitters, giving up a double to the penultimate batter he faced before leaving after 61 pitches -- 40 of which he threw for strikes.
Lackey, who opened the season on the disabled list because of a strained forearm, struck out three and allowed just five balls to be hit in the air, going to a three-ball count on just two of 16 batters. He used all four of his pitches, hitting 91 mph with his fastball.
A day earlier right-hander Ervin Santana, who opened the season on the DL with a sprained elbow, made his first rehab start for Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He threw 60 pitches in 4 2/3 innings in which he gave up three runs and four hits.
“It was a good workout for him,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said of Santana, who experienced nothing more than typical post-start soreness Tuesday.
Lackey and Santana will pitch for Salt Lake this weekend, hoping to extend themselves to at least 75 pitches. If there are no setbacks, they could be activated next week.
Here’s the catch
Mike Napoli may be in a groove standing at the plate, having reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances and 13 of his last 14 before striking out in his first at-bat Tuesday. But what he does squatting behind it has more impact on the Angels’ success, Scioscia says.
“The most important part of what happens in a ballgame is that pitcher-catcher relationship. On any night. In any ballpark,” said Scioscia, an All-Star catcher in his playing days.
“When Mike’s behind the plate and he calls 150 pitches . . . if he doesn’t do the job behind the plate then it doesn’t matter if he goes six for six. We’re not going to win.”
Napoli, the designated hitter in two of the Angels’ previous three games, was behind the plate for the finale of the second trip of the season, even though he says not having to deal with the physical and mental demands of catching helps him offensively.
“Being behind the plate, there’s so much you have to do,” said Napoli, who has started 15 of the Angels’ 25 games behind the plate. “Defensively you have to be in the game the whole time and be aware of everything.
“DHing you can just worry about hitting.”
Scioscia said Napoli will see his share of at-bats in that spot, but he has to rotate a number of players through that position. Bobby Abreu, whose sore back has hindered him in the field, was the DH on Tuesday.
“He’s a big part of what we need to do defensively,” Scioscia said of Napoli. “But definitely the way he’s swinging the bat, when he’s not catching you would want keep looking at this bat right now.”
Vladimir Guerrero’s recuperation from a torn muscle in his chest continued as he swung the bat vigorously for the third time since going on the disabled list three weeks ago. After being evaluated by Dr. Lewis Yocum today at Anaheim Stadium, Guerrero could be cleared to increase his baseball activities. . . . After Tuesday’s game, the Angels optioned infielder Brandon Wood to Salt Lake and recalled outfielder Reggie Willits.