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Angels’ Luis Valbuena ready for more bat flips in 2018

He tried to bunt for a hit but was thrown out on a hustle play by the pitcher.

Still, Luis Valbuena went down swinging, taking a final jab at Oakland’s Kendall Graveman.

“I told him, ‘Man, this is spring training. Come on,’” Valbuena explained of their recent on-field exchange. “We were laughing about it.”

That’s Valbuena, the Angels’ leader in smiles and antics, a guy who plays with personality and flair, who famously flips his bat because, he has explained, he simply can’t help himself.

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On Sunday against Texas, he bunted successfully for a hit, taking advantage of the way the Rangers were defending him. As he crossed first, Valbuena twisted around and pointed dramatically toward his dugout.

“I like to be a happy guy,” he said. “I like to enjoy the game. It’s my work, but it’s a game, you know? That’s why you see me smiling all the time. I’m trying to go 120 percent.”

Valbuena will start the season as a backup at first and third, most of his time in the field expected to come when Albert Pujols is the designated hitter.

He can be an offensive weapon: Valbuena hit 17 home runs after July 1 last season, the same number as Mike Trout. He finished with 22 homers, third among the Angels and more than, among others around the majors, Justin Turner, Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun.

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“I was just looking for good pitches and trying to be aggressive,” Valbuena said. “I felt good because I was playing more and getting more comfortable at the plate.”

The sudden souvenir distribution was not a fluke. In 2015, playing for Houston, Valbuena had 19 home runs by June 24. However, Valbuena didn’t hit another until August. He finished with a career-high 25.

Very little about Valbuena’s offense is steady. Only once in 10 seasons has he finished the year hitting better than .250.

In 2017, 567 players had a higher batting average than Valbuena’s .199. That group included Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke and Noah Syndergaard, who, unlike Valbuena, also contribute to their teams by pitching.

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Even former Angels right-hander Ervin Santana was two for 10 last season.

None of which will alter Valbuena’s aggressive approach at the plate or gregarious approach everywhere else.

“I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to be mad or anything like that,” he said. “I’m going to be happy around all my teammates, around everybody.”

Ohtani snaps slump

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After 10 straight hitless at-bats, Shohei Ohtani singled off Bartolo Colon on Sunday in the second inning of a 4-3 win over Texas. He later struck out and grounded out, leaving him two for 14 this spring.

“I’m still trying to find the right timing in my approach,” Ohtani said through an interpreter when asked about tweaking his stance. “I’m changing things up in every at-bat. That’s probably why you saw the difference.”

As the designated hitter, Ohtani batted eighth. He’s expected to DH again Monday.

Another topic of discussion was the music that accompanied Ohtani’s plate appearances against the Rangers. The public-address system blared “Fashion Monster” by Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

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“That’s not my real, actual walk-up song,” he said. “The guys in the clubhouse were just kind of teasing, playing around with me.”

Ohtani’s next pitching appearance is set for 1:10 p.m. Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium against Colorado.

Cozart back at short

With Andrelton Simmons out with a strained left shoulder, Zack Cozart moved back to his natural position of shortstop Sunday.

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Cozart, a National League All-Star at short last season, agreed to shift to third in December when the Angels signed him.

Manager Mike Scioscia said Cozart would be an option to spell Simmons during the regular season. He also said Cozart has been working out at second base and that he’d play there in a game before spring training is over.

The Angels are trying to bolster the versatility of their roster in part because on the days Ohtani pitches, their bench will be shorter.

Simmons rejoined his teammates on the field Sunday and did some running and throwing. He’s expected to hit this week and be ready for the start of the season.

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Short hops

The Angels will play an intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday so Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano can pitch. Ohtani, Chris Young (calf), Jefry Marte (groin) and Nolan Fontana (shoulder) also are expected to play. … The Angels optioned outfielder Michael Hermosillo and pitcher Eduardo Paredes to triple-A Salt Lake and pitcher Jake Jewell to double-A Mobile. They also reassigned pitchers Adam Hofacket and Branden Pinder to minor league camp.

jmiller2929@yahoo.com

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