Infield defense must improve
The addition of Vernon Wells gives the Angels two Gold Glove winners to flank speedy Peter Bourjos in center field, turning what had been a weakness -- outfield defense -- into a strength.
But that might not mean much if the Angels don’t play better defense in the infield as well.
Last season the Angels were second to last in the American League in errors and fielding percentage and second to last in the majors in double plays. That was a big drop-off from the year before, when they led the majors with 174 double plays.
“There are a lot of positives that are coming forward in where our team looks right now on the defensive side,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “These guys have been working very, very hard on everything from their feeds to turning double plays.
“You have to make your plays on the left side of the infield, and we’re seeing that right now.”
He didn’t see that much last year. Only one AL shortstop committed more errors than the Angels’ ErickAybar, while the five players Scioscia used at third combined for 15 more.
This spring the Angels made it to the fourth inning of their sixth exhibition before committing an error. And no other AL team had turned more double plays than the Angels’ eight entering Thursday -- a trend that could prove especially important to ground-ball pitchers Dan Haren and Joel Pineiro.
“It’s great to look and see you have no errors. But there’s more important evaluation tools than just errors,” Scioscia said. “Our range is terrific on the infield and outfield. That’s going to play into a lot of things. Hopefully we can make more plays.”
Thursday was the deadline for teams to renew the contracts of players not eligible for free agency or arbitration. The Angels say they didn’t push that deadline, signing their last two players -- infielder Brandon Wood and pitcher Matt Palmer -- earlier in the week.
Barring a trade or other surprise, the players on the Angels’ 25-man roster will earn just more than $132 million this season. Add in the $11 million the team owes outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and subtract the $5 million the Blue Jays are reportedly contributing to Wells’ salary, and the Angels’ player payroll will top $138 million on opening day -- a franchise record and a $17-million increase over last spring.
Speaking of franchise records, the Angels set another one this week by buying more than $4,500 worth of toys, most of which will be donated to children at a Tempe-area school for families in between permanent homes.
During the early part of spring training Scioscia assigns young players daily tasks, such as delivering reports on local amusement parks and fairs or learning everything they can about a teammate. It’s a bonding exercise that, seven years ago, grew into something more meaningful when outfielder Reggie Willits, who has two young sons, was asked to gather toys and demonstrate how they work.
Each spring since then, Willits has collected cash donations from teammates, then spent the money at Toys ‘R’ Us. This year, joined by about 10 other players, he bought more than 100 toys.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s a way to get the young guys and let them kind of see about giving back to the community,” said Willits, who has seen his shopping spree grow from about $500 to nearly $5,000.
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Royals 8, Angels 2
AT THE PLATE: Mark Trumbo’s second home run of the spring, a two-run, two-out shot in the second inning, accounted for the Angels’ scoring. Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick combined for the other four Angels hits with two singles each, and Peter Bourjos walked twice.
ON THE MOUND: Ervin Santana battled for command in his spring debut, needing 34 pitches to get through a first inning in which he gave up two runs on a walk and two hits. He experimented with his new split-finger pitch just once, bouncing it in the dirt for a wild pitch. Fernando Rodney also had trouble in his lone inning, loading the bases on a hit and two walks before getting out of the jam.
EXTRA BASES: The Angels have gone 12 for 49 with
runners in scoring position, leaving 37 men on base in six games.
UP NEXT: Scott Kazmir returns to the mound against the White Sox and Jake Peavy in Tempe at noon PST Friday.
ON THE AIR: TV: FS West; Radio: 830.
-- Kevin Baxter