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Angels' Andrelton Simmons hopes to get a jump on the season after playing in the World Baseball Classic

Angels' Andrelton Simmons hopes to get a jump on the season after playing in the World Baseball Classic
Andrelton Simmons warms up with the Netherlands for its World Baseball Classic semifinal against Puerto Rico on Monday at Dodger Stadium. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Andrelton Simmons loved everything about his second World Baseball Classic, except for the logistics.

Between Feb. 28 and Monday, he and the Netherlands' contingent traveled from Seoul to Tokyo to Phoenix to Los Angeles, where they lost an 11-inning semifinal to Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium.

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"It's a lot of traveling," Simmons said. "A lot of people. A lot of germs. On my team, a lot of people got sick."

The shortstop from Curacao returned to camp and the Angels' lineup on Wednesday. He said the Netherlands team he had just left wound up with more talent than expected and he lamented the way their run finished — and his role in it. Early in Monday's loss, he strayed too far from second base on a bunt attempt and was tagged out.

"We had it in our hands," he said. "It hurts that we could've won it, in our eyes, but we also threw it away by not doing certain stuff. But it was fun, a good experience."

Simmons said he benefited from the fervor surrounding the games.

"I don't know why, but I feel like it's a lot more focused at-bats, a lot more intense," he said. "In spring training, even though you're working on stuff, you're not selling out for an at-bat. Most at-bats matter in that. I'm trying to win something, so I'm more focused."

There's also inherently less information and video available on the opposition in an international tournament featuring players of varying pedigrees.

"You wing it a little more," he said, "which I don't mind that much."

During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Simmons was still an amateur in Curacao, not yet discovered by American scouts. After his quick ascent, he participated in the 2013 tournament, and said it helped him during the regular season's first month. And he's hoping the same thing happens this time.

"I can't predict the future, but I definitely feel more locked-in than normal," he said. "It's different, I can't explain why. But I just played a semifinal. Maybe for you guys here you don't feel it as much as we did there. We were trying to win something."

Upon his arrival to Angels' camp a year ago, Simmons said he wanted to hit .280 and drive in 100 runs, and then said he knew those goals were unrealistic. He wound up hitting .281, but with only four homers, 44 runs batted in and a .692 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Asked about those goals Wednesday, he expressed surprise that he had revealed them. He said he'd like to replicate the altered approach he carried into last season's second half, when he improved his on-base percentage by 50 points.

"Instead of swinging at strikes, I think I started focusing more on swinging at my pitches that I wanted to look for in that particular count, that particular day," Simmons said. "That changed a little bit. It takes a little bit to zone in and be more selective, but hopefully I can keep that going this year."

He said he was unconcerned about the limited time remaining to gain familiarity with new second baseman Danny Espinosa, but acknowledged there would be some aspects of the double-play pairing they would have to pick up during the regular season.

"It's not like he hasn't played," Simmons said. "It's not like I haven't played baseball before. We're going to be fine. He's a good defensive player."

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Simmons said he was not in favor of moving all or part of the WBC tournament to a later time in the baseball calendar.

"In my head, that doesn't work," Simmons said. "Like it is, it's OK. … Some people can't risk playing, but if you have the opportunity and you're healthy, it's a fun experience. Spring training's cool and all, but the classic's way intense. It's fun to represent your country."

Opening questions

It remains unclear who will be the Angels' opening-day starter. Right-hander Garrett Richards said upon his arrival this spring that he assumed it would be him. But he's now scheduled — "in pencil," Manager Mike Scioscia cautioned — to start a March 31 Freeway Series game against the Dodgers.

That would put him on track to start the third game of the season, not the first. Right-hander Matt Shoemaker is currently in line to pitch opening day. Scioscia said a decision has not been finalized.

"If you're trying to figure out what our rotation is going to be opening day," Scioscia said, "you're going to have to wait."

Valbuena hobbled

First baseman Luis Valbuena exited the Angels' Wednesday home game after three innings because of tightness in his right hamstring. Scioscia said Valbuena was to be further evaluated after the game.

"Hopefully, it won't be anything serious," Scioscia said.

The 31-year-old underwent surgery on the same hamstring last August, ending a career year. Valbuena did not play for nearly two weeks earlier this month while bothered by general leg soreness.

Twitter: @pedromoura

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