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03/21/10 9:00 PM ET
Weaver and Co. stung by old friends
Righty knocked around by former Halos Figgins, Kotchman
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It wasn't your typical Cactus League game. This one came with subplots and a dash of international intrigue. Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman embraced their old friends in red on Sunday, and then they went out and did everything they could to beat the Angels in their new Seattle uniforms. Like exhilarated kids let loose in a park, Figgins and Kotchman spent pretty much the entire afternoon in the familiar infield at Tempe Diablo Stadium -- with and without their gloves. They had plenty of exercise on the bases with three hits and a walk apiece while playing sparkling defense in Seattle's 12-6 decision over the three-time reigning champions of the division they share, the American League West. "This is going to be an interesting year," said Figgins, who accepted Seattle's four-year, $36 million free-agent offer following a career year as an AL All-Star in 2009. "I know how good those guys are, and it's going to be a challenge for us. I'm really looking forward to this." A substantial Japanese media crowd was treated to the first head-to-head showdown between new division rivals Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Neither legend disappointed. Matsui walked, singled and drove in a run with a groundout. Ichiro singled and scored, walked and lashed a two-run triple in the seventh, showing his sprinter's speed. There are those in the MLB media who think the Angels will be challenged to keep pace with the Mariners in their 19 meetings. Seattle added premier starter Cliff Lee along with Figgins, Kotchman and Milton Bradley to a cast featuring future Hall of Famers Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. From Angels manager Mike Scioscia's viewpoint, Ichiro and Figgins atop the order present obvious problems. Kotchman, smart and resourceful, looked comfortable slashing line drives behind them in the No. 3 spot."They're going to be a heavy part of setting the table for them," Scioscia said of Ichiro and Figgins, who combined to score five runs and reach base seven times. "They're really tough in the batter's box, and when they get on base, they can create like you saw today. "We'll do a better job. We didn't do some things on the mound we needed to do. Obviously, they're an important part of their team." For Jered Weaver, the Angels' probable Opening Day pitcher, the exercise in the desert sun was a mixed bag. He got some work done that could prove beneficial in the long haul even as he was laboring through 4 1/3 innings yielding six runs (five earned) on eight hits while striking out three men. Weaver was experimenting with a new pitch introduced by teammate Joel Pineiro. "Joel showed me a cutter-slash-slider I've been working on," Weaver said. "It takes a while to get a feel for it. We're going to work with it. "When I throw it right, it's a good pitch. It comes out like a fastball with later action. My other slider, you could see it out of my hand. This one's a little deeper, a little sharper. "It's the first time I've used it." The Mariners got none of their eight hits against Weaver off the new pitch, but he had trouble at times keeping it in the strike zone. That impacted his efficiency: 82 pitches are too many for 4 1/3 innings. "I threw three or four good ones and got three ground balls and a pop fly with it," Weaver said. "There were eight to 10 where I started it too low and they dove into the dirt." Expanding his repertoire in an effort to balance his four-seam fastball and changeup, Weaver also brought his new two-seam fastball into game conditions for the second time and saw improvement in its execution and behavior. "That and the slider are pitches I'm going to throw a lot my next few starts," Weaver said. It was, he admitted, a strange sensation facing Figgins, the Angels' dynamic leadoff man of recent vintage, and Kotchman, their former first baseman. After Ichiro opened the game with a single, Figgins' ripped a triple past first and down the right-field line. Kotchman lashed a single to right to deliver Figgins. After a run of seven consecutive outs by Weaver, Figgins and Kotchman created another run in familiar fashion. Figgins singled, stole second and scored when Kotchman singled. "It's a little different, especially with him not leading off," Weaver said of facing Figgins. "He's a good hitter. He knows me." Figgins had anticipated that the two wouldn't be able to resist a smile when they faced each other for the first time. "I tried not to look at him," Weaver said. "I knew he'd crack up. I wish him the best -- just not against us." Ichiro will benefit from Figgins' uncommon plate discipline and ability to do so many things with the bat. "They can both run and both find holes," said Weaver, who coughed up a three-run homer to Eric Byrnes in the fourth. "It's the same 1-2 we had last year pretty much. They're going to run." The Angels, who used Izturis, Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu behind Figgins in the No. 2 spot last season, have Aybar and Izturis poised to lead off. Figgins, adapting nicely to a return to second base after playing brilliantly at third the past three seasons, clearly is enthused about breaking new ground in the Pacific Northwest. "It's all about competing every day, making things happen," Figgins said. "That never changes, no matter what uniform you're wearing."
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Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.