Former first-round pick Cowart still trying to make it with the Angels

It was a day when the Angels did little at the plate, finishing with only one run.

In five innings against the Cubs’ Jon Lester, they had the same number of strikeouts as hits, three apiece, losing the spring training game last week, 6-1.

Kaleb Cowart, however, walked away feeling encouraged. He singled off Lester in his first at-bat and grounded out sharply in his second.

“He’s the ace of the Cubs, right?” Cowart said. “I felt pretty good about that. It was a good day.”


There haven’t been many of those with the Angels for the 2010 first-round pick Cowart, now 25, trying to earn the final position-player spot on the opening day roster.

In each of the past three seasons, he has had short stints in the big leagues, hitting .197 with a .575 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 233 at-bats.

Cowart received his most extended look after the All-Star break last summer when the Angels started him at second base for a stretch. After a quick start — 12 hits in his first eight games — he cooled considerably.

“I’m just trying to improve at the plate, not swing at bad pitches,” Cowart said. “Trying to get my pitch and, when I get it, do damage with it. Just going out every day and attacking.”

He is battling Jose Fernandez, Colin Walsh and Nolan Fontana, who has been slowed by shoulder inflammation.

The Angels likely will keep someone who can back up second baseman Ian Kinsler, though manager Mike Scioscia said third baseman Zack Cozart also will appear at second before spring training is over.

“You go out and fight for those last bench spots,” Cowart said. “That’s what a few of us are trying to do. You want to be in a position where if something happens during the season, you can contribute when your name is called.”

Cowart was drafted the same year Bryce Harper went No. 1 to Washington. Players selected in the first round after Cowart included Christian Yelich, Noah Syndergaard and Nick Castellanos.

Cowart is approaching 800 games and 3,000 at-bats in the minors. Once exclusively a third baseman, Cowart has played second, short and first in recent years as well.

“Whatever makes me more valuable,” he said. “I don’t mind playing wherever they need me. We have a great lineup here. Hopefully, I can contribute any way possible.”

Ohtani still struggling

Shohei Ohtani had another hitless day in a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati on Monday.

He grounded out twice, lined out to left field and struck out looking. Ohtani is two for 18 this spring.

“He just missed a couple pitches,” Scioscia said. “But it’s just some timing.”

Because of his pitching schedule, Ohtani has fewer at-bats than the Angels’ other hitters. He’ll play Tuesday morning in an intrasquad game with a few teammates who have missed time because of injury.

His next pitching start is set for 1:10 p.m. Friday when the Angels play Colorado at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Trout debuts new helmet

Mike Trout said he was considering using a batting helmet with a partial face guard before Sunday. Then he took a pitch from Texas right-hander Erik Goeddel off his head and the decision became an even easier one.

So, Monday against Cincinnati, Trout debuted the new helmet and went one for two with a walk and scored twice. He said he wasn’t sure how long he would stick with it.

Rivera remembers debut

The at-bat happened more than 13 years ago, but Rene Rivera remembers it like it was 13 minutes ago.

“Pinch hit,” the Angels catcher said. “Right-handed pitcher. Cutter. Ground ball to second base. The guy made a great play.”

That was Rivera’s big-league debut, on Sept. 22, 2004 against the Angels when he was playing for Seattle. He was 21 and grounded out against Matt Hensley.

They were the Anaheim Angels then, the lineup that day including David Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Bengie Molina. The Angels’ starter was Bartolo Colon.

Colon, now 44, started Sunday for Texas against Rivera and the Angels.

Six-man success

Seventeen days before their opener, the Angels have seen decent results from most of the candidates for their six-man rotation.

More importantly, they’ve seen all eight pitchers making starts on time and remaining healthy, which has been a problem in recent seasons.

“There are some important hurdles coming up for all these guys,” Scioscia said. “We’re very optimistic that they’re going to hold and start the season and be healthy and effective and remain healthy and effective.”