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03/29/10 4:01 PM ET

Pitching stability returns to Angels

If Kazmir's ready, Halos have healthy set of five starters

TEMPE, Ariz. -- At this time last spring, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was all but asking for volunteers from the stands as he tried to patch together a pitching staff.

Particularly hard hit was the rotation, with projected starters John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar opening the season on the disabled list. Their roles initially would be filled by Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux and Nick Adenhart in what would become a revolving door, ushering through a total of 14 starters across six months.

Instability in the rotation created undue stress on the bullpen, where 17 different arms would be summoned to duty by Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher.

But the forecast with 2010 Opening Day approaching is for clearer skies and smoother sailing this time around for the three-time defending American League West champions.

Encouraged by the work on Sunday of Santana, Scioscia has only to see Scott Kazmir clear a hurdle on Tuesday to have his five starters lined up and ready to roll starting Monday against the Twins at Angel Stadium.

Kazmir, whose spring has been interrupted by a right hamstring strain and a brief flareup of shoulder tightness, will be asked to go five innings and reach 75 pitches against the Brewers in Tempe.

The lefty, encouraged by a power bullpen session on Saturday, will have one more opportunity on Sunday to stretch it out to the 90-pitch range to get ready for his first projected April 9 start against the Athletics.

Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Santana and Joel Pineiro are in line to draw the Twins in the season's first four games.

The Angels' first four starters last season were Saunders, Moseley, Adenhart and Weaver, who took the mound with a heavy heart after his buddy, Adenhart, was killed in a car wreck hours after pitching a six-inning gem against the A's.

"We lost Lackey [to free agency and Boston], and he was a bulldog," said Hunter, the Angels' center fielder and clubhouse leader. "Joel Pineiro is going to be throwing strikes, keeping the ball down, getting deep in games.

"We've got five solid starters, guys who can give you at least 15 wins. And we've got a deep bullpen with Brian Fuentes learning, figuring things out with a year under his belt in the American League. We're built to win."

The Halos fortified their bullpen with Brian Stokes and Fernando Rodney, who bring premium stuff to a group that also includes Scot Shields, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger.

Stokes' ability to work multiple innings enables the Angels to fill the Darren Oliver void. Matt Palmer, who excelled in the bullpen and was a revelation in the rotation last year, appears ticketed to open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake and remain stretched out in order to serve as the sixth, emergency starter.

Clarity is beginning to emerge with the pitching, Scioscia said on Monday, and that starts with Santana's strong effort Sunday against the Indians: 84 pitches, no residual right elbow pain after bumping against a couch and inflaming the bursa sac.

"Some things with Ervin we're excited about," Scioscia said. "For Ervin, that was an important step. We'll see how Kamir looks [Tuesday]. Kaz hopefully will go five [innings] and 75 [pitches]. He'll stay back on Sunday and pitch in a camp game and is going to try to get up six times with 90 pitches.

"We see Palmer, [Anthony] Ortega and [Sean] O'Sullivan [on the depth chart]. I don't know if we'd force 12 [pitchers] unless we need depth. If we took Matty Palmer out to start [at Salt Lake], we'd have 11. A lot of things are contingent on starters' health. We're probably not going to get clarity until the weekend."

Carrying 11 pitchers would create an extra roster spot for a position player, which could enable the Angels to carry Bobby Wilson along with Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis behind the plate.

Maicer Izturis, if he doesn't dislodge Brandon Wood at third, is the fifth infielder. The competition is close among a group of outfielders (Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Terry Evans, Michael Ryan, Cory Aldridge), infielder Freddy Sandoval and those who can play both infield and outfield (Quinlan, Ryan) for bench roles.

Scioscia acknowledged that Quinlan and Ryan would provide added flexibility with their ability to play all four corner positions -- first, third, left and right.

"If you don't have tough [roster] decisions," Scioscia said, "you're not as deep as you want to be."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.