02/19/2013 4:37 PM ET
Angels lament end of third-to-first pickoff move
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Remember that night in Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9, 2011? The Angels held a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, runners on the corners and Mark Teixeira at the plate. Then-closer Jordan Walden faked to third base, turned back to first and caught Curtis Granderson in a rundown to end the game.
Nothing like that will ever happen again.
Major League Baseball has eliminated the third-to-first pickoff heading into the 2013 season, as approved in the Owners Meetings in January, mainly because it was too deceptive to the runner at first. From now on, that move will be considered a balk.
Angels ace Jered Weaver also benefitted from the move in Yankee Stadium, starting a double play in the early part of an eventual 10-8 win last July 15.
"It's something that's been in baseball for a long time, and we've grown accustomed to it and seen the benefits from the defensive end of it, so it's a little bit of a slight system shock when they take out something that's become a valuable tool in controlling the running game," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, part of Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters. "I think everyone looks at it like you never pick anybody off, but that was never the directive of that move. It's really to control the jump of the guy at first base. We've done a great job of that over the years."
The rule change will allow teams to be more aggressive on the basepaths, of course, but it'll limit how much teams can control the running game. Scioscia will have his pitchers work more on the pickoff move directly to third base this spring, since pitchers now have to throw there when they step off the mound.
"Certainly a pitcher will have to be more cognizant of getting the ball to the plate," Scioscia said, "because when you have a live pick to third, there's less of a deterrent to that baserunner [at first base]."
Behind Trout, Kendrick might get a second chance
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The numbers seemingly say it all. Put second baseman Howie Kendrick in the No. 2 spot, where bunting, taking pitches and moving guys over is part of the job description, and he scuffles a bit. Put him lower in the lineup, freeing him up to swing the bat more aggressively in an RBI spot, and he thrives.
Consider his career slash lines …
Batting 2nd: .257/.294/.401 in 784 plate appearances.
Batting 5th: .287/.337/.377 in 419 plate appearances.
Batting 6th: .309/.332/.451 in 648 plate appearances.
Batting 7th: .314/.352/.455 in 784 plate appearances.
Kendrick doesn't care where he hits. But it's tough to deny it isn't different when he bats second.
"You do have to be able to take pitches for other guys and move runners," Kendrick said. "It's not that I can't do that, but I like to be a little more aggressive and take what's given. Sometimes being in the 2-spot, it might not be as beneficial. But that's part of the reason why I moved from there to like the 6-hole or the 5-hole. Which is fine, too. I'm never one to complain about where I hit. As long as I'm in the lineup and helping the team win, that's all I care about."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia will spend a good portion of the spring trying to figure out who bats in that coveted No. 2 hole between leadoff hitter Mike Trout and the menacing duo of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar will get plenty of looks there. But on nights when Vernon Wells starts in the outfield, the Angels will have more power toward the bottom of the order, which could free up Kendrick to bat second.
Kendrick's career numbers may suggest he's better off batting sixth or seventh, but perhaps he hasn't received a fair shake at the No. 2 spot.
Last year, Kendrick began the season as the Angels' No. 2 hitter and struggled, batting .250 with a .277 on-base percentage in the first 20 games before regaining his comfort level a few spots down in the batting order. Kendrick's struggles came in April, though -- before Trout came up and before Pujols really got going.
Would it be different now?
"[Trout will] be on base and you'll probably see a lot more fastballs," Kendrick said. "But at the same time, too, you have to give him the opportunity to run. So that part never changes. … You have to weigh your options. I'd rather be hitting with him on second base than first base, so you have to give him the opportunity to take the bag, and I don't ever want to limit a guy's game like that, when you know they're going to have a great chance of stealing that bag."
Back again: Burnett sidelined with freak injury
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It happens basically every spring. Sean Burnett's lower back will lock up, put him on the shelf for a few days, then go away. Last year, it happened while putting his glove in his locker. This year, it happened while putting his 4-year-old son in a shopping cart.
Once again, the Angels' new reliever doesn't believe it's anything serious.
"It's just like waking up and you feel it tight and it's just not loosening up," Burnett said. "But today it's as good as it's been, so just a couple more days. I'll get some more tests on it today, so no worries."
Burnett was buying groceries for his new Spring Training home over the weekend when the back flared up again, resulting in the same problem that cost him about 10 days while with the Nationals late last spring. He felt fine after throwing on Sunday and had an MRI on Monday that came back clean, but will undergo further tests on Tuesday to get a better read.
"My arm feels good and I'm in good shape," Burnett said. "So whenever it calms down, I'll be ready to go."
Burnett takes solace in the fact that the back flared up in the early portion of Spring Training, rather than the last week like it did in 2012.
"It's just the most random thing," Burnett said. "None of them have been baseball-related or anything like that. It comes, it lasts a few days, and it goes away."
Target of teasing? Cowart No. 1 with a bullet
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kaleb Cowart gave his Angels teammates some prime hazing material heading into his first Major League Spring Training.
While going through airport security on his way from Georgia to Arizona, the 20-year-old third baseman and avid hunter didn't realize he left a handgun bullet in his book bag. So he got stopped by TSA, caused a scene, spent an extra half-hour getting interviewed, tweeted about it, then didn't hear the end of it.
"First day," Cowart said. "First day of camp I was getting picked on about it."
On Friday, prior to the first full workout, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made Cowart explain himself to the entire room of 64 players. And on Tuesday, as part of the presentations every newbie must give in the pre-workout meetings, Cowart was getting set to present on gun safety, deer hunting and, as the cherry on top, mating season.
"It took awhile just to get all the stuff together," said Cowart, who had to run to Office Max five separate times because of pictures he forgot to print out for his poster boards. "Once I got all the stuff together, it was 20, 30 minutes. But just to get all the stuff together took awhile."
Cowart is the Angels' No. 1 prospect, the only one in the organization ranked in the Top 100 by MLB.com (67th), and is slated to take over as the full-time third baseman in two years. But here, heading into his first season of Double-A, he's just like any other first-timer, giving embarrassing presentations and even sharing a locker.
His focus is to improve on his greatest weakness, consistency from the left side of the plate, and to soak in these next few weeks.
"I'm having a blast, just being around these guys," said Cowart, the switch-hitter who batted .276 with 16 homers and 103 RBIs at both Class A levels last year. "I couldn't be more excited about this year and what's going on here in Spring Training."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.