Former Bees ready for big role with Angels

Former Bees ready for big role with Angels

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By KEN PETERS AP Sports Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Angels are worried about their health and their hands. Two key pitchers are injured, and the defense was deplorable last year.

On the mound, the Angels' pitching staff should be one of the best in baseball -- if Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver fully recover from injuries.

Colon, the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner, appeared in only 10 games last season because of shoulder problems. He went 1-5 with a 5.11 ERA and is slowly working his way back from a rotator cuff tear.

Weaver, who won his first nine major league starts and finished 11-2 as a rookie last year, also has been brought along slowly this spring because of biceps tendinitis.

Neither will be ready when the season begins, so John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar will be joined in the rotation by Joe Saunders, with a possible fifth starter filling in as needed.

"They are going to be ready at some point of the season. I'm not going to put a date on it," pitching coach Mike Butcher said.

Down in the bullpen, closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields head one of the AL's most dependable corps of relievers.

The offense, too, already has been depleted by injuries. Juan Rivera, who hit .310 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs last year, broke his left leg playing winter ball and might miss the entire season. Chone Figgins, whose 52 steals were second in the league, is expected to miss at least five weeks with two broken fingers on his throwing hand.

Vladimir Guerrero, the 2004 AL MVP, again anchors the lineup, but still needs more protection. The Angels hope the acquisition of Shea Hillenbrand -- signed after Rivera was hurt -- will provide some of that.

If Garret Anderson stays healthy, he could help keep some of the pressure off Guerrero, the only player in the majors who has hit above .300 for each of the past 10 years.

Gary Matthews Jr., signed by the Angels to a five-year, $50 million contract after a breakout year with Texas, also could be a plus batting in the leadoff spot.

Matthews reportedly was linked to an investigation of unlawful trafficking in human growth hormone dating to 2004, but he issued a statement saying he had never taken HGH. Baseball is still looking into the matter.

First baseman Casey Kotchman, one of Los Angeles' most promising young hitters, has recovered from a viral syndrome that slowed him last year and could provide an offensive spark. Second baseman Howie Kendrick, also considered a talented hitter, should be better after an up-and-down rookie campaign.

Then there's the matter of catching the ball.

The Angels committed a league-high 122 errors in 2006 and gave up 80 unearned runs. The previous year, they led the AL with a .986 fielding percentage.

"Last year, we threw a lot of games away," shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. "We need to get back to playing solid defense."

Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said injuries had a lot to do with the errors.

"We played terrific defense from the end of May, beginning of June through the end of the season," he said. "We'll be more stable this year, with guys playing one position. With injuries last year, we had to fill a lot of holes.

"It's no coincidence that as we started playing better defense, we started winning."

Beginning in July, the two-time defending AL West champion Angels went a major league-best 54-29. But their 17-28 start doomed them to a second-place finish behind Oakland.

Only Lackey, Rodriguez, Shields, Anderson and Jose Molina remain from the Angels' 2002 World Series championship team. Over the winter, the Angels parted ways with several longtime stalwarts, including Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy and Brendan Donnelly. Tim Salmon retired, as well.

Pitching coach Bud Black left to become San Diego's manager, and Mike Butcher replaced him.

"We're going through a transition," said Scioscia, heading into his eighth season as the Angels' manager. "But it has been five years."

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