Izturis, Napoli get Opening Day nods
Manager Scioscia says Aybar, Mathis performed well
MINNEAPOLIS -- And the winners are, on Opening Day, at least, Maicer Izturis and Mike Napoli.
Izturis will be the shortstop and Napoli the catcher when the Angels kick off their 2008 season on Monday night at the Metrodome against the Twins.
That sends to the bench, for now at least, Erick Aybar and Jeff Mathis.
Manager Mike Scioscia was quick to point out that there were no losers in the two position battles, that all four players handled themselves capably all spring.
"They're playing at the level we thought they'd play at," Scioscia said of Izturis and Aybar, whose stellar performances offensively and defensively underscored why the club was willing to move a Rawlings Gold Glove shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, to the White Sox for Jon Garland. "I don't think there's anything that's a surprise. We were pretty deep at that position, and we still are."
Izturis, 27, and Aybar, 24, were virtually flawless defensively in Cactus League play. Izturis is the more experienced of the two, and he is further along offensively, a superb situational hitter capable of approaching .300.
Batting ninth, in front of Chone Figgins, Izturis will in effect give the Angels a double leadoff presence.
"Stealing bases is part of my game," Izturis said. "I hope to do a lot of that this year. I like hitting ninth. It's a good spot."
Izturis in style is more like the departed Cabrera than Aybar, whose spectacular athletic ability calls to mind his role model, the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal.
Aybar can provide depth at second base as well as shortstop, with Izturis capable of sliding over to third or second if the need arises.
Behind the plate, calling the pitches for first-time Opening Day starter Jered Weaver, Napoli has rebounded from shin and hamstring injuries that limited him to 42 second-half at-bats in 2007. Mathis seized the opportunity to establish himself as a quality catcher.
Mathis found his power stroke late in the spring, launching several monstrous shots. He's a selective hitter with a .356 Major League on-base percentage, and his arm has shown improved accuracy. In that department, Mathis holds a decided edge, and he has improved his offensive approach significantly this spring.
"Both those guys can play every day," Scioscia said of his two receivers. "They have the ability to do that. I think we're in good shape."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.