03/10/2013 9:30 PM ET
Courtesy runner takes Pujols' place on bases
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It wasn't a local kickball game, but it felt like it the two times Albert Pujols reached base and gave way to what can simply be called a "courtesy runner."
For each of Pujols' three starts this spring, the Angels have made an agreement with the opposing manager to let them deploy a pinch runner whose sole purpose was to run the bases so their recovering slugger could simply hit.
It didn't come into play in the first two games, with Pujols going 1-for-6 with a homer. But on Sunday, when Pujols went 2-for-2 with a walk and his second home run in as many days, it raised confusion at Surprise Stadium.
Non-roster invitee Matt Young, who finished the game in center field, replaced Pujols on the bases after a line drive single in the first inning, but the umpires thought that meant Pujols was out of the game. So they were surprised to see him come to the plate in the third, which prompted a long on-field discussion between Angels manager Mike Scioscia, crew chief Bill Miller and Royals skipper Ned Yost.
"I talked to Mike about it before the game and I didn't have a problem with it," Yost said. "On a number of fronts: One, we had a packed house [7,417 announced attendance] and they want to see Albert Pujols; and two, I want our pitchers facing Albert Pujols. I didn't think it would be an issue, but Bill thought it'd be an issue."
The Angels were eventually allowed to use Young after Pujols drew a walk in his second plate appearance -- but they let Pujols jog around the bases when he took Bruce Chen deep in the fifth.
Pujols ran the bases for the first time on Saturday and has said all along that he'll be ready by Opening Day, but the Angels are being extra cautious with him after offseason right knee surgery.
There's still no target date for Pujols' debut at first base, where he continues to field groundballs, but simply appearing in back-to-back games is a good sign -- even if it comes as the designated hitter.
"I think it's significant in the fact that still he has to run, he has to swing; there's some things that he needs to do," Scioscia said. "But I think when he gets out there and plays first base and repeats it, we'll know that he's far enough along that his leg's feeling where it should be."
Scioscia applauds Trout's decision not to play Classic
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout took part in the World Baseball Classic, but as a fan. On Saturday night, he was at Chase Field, alongside teammate Vernon Wells, rooting on Team USA's eventual 6-2 victory over Italy.
The fact he supported them in the stands, and not on the field, is a decision with which Angels manager Mike Scioscia was in full agreement.
"I think there will be a time for him to explore playing in the WBC, and I think he made the right decision [not to]," Scioscia said. "I think he made the right decision to be in camp, especially given his history. He's never had a full Spring Training. He's had shoulder issues that had plagued him, he had a viral thing last year that plagued him. So I think it's important for him to get in the flow for what is going to be a season under the microscope because of what he did last year."
Coming off a year in which he was the unanimous choice for the American League Rookie of the Year and the runner-up for Most Valuable Player Award honors, the 21-year-old Trout would've been a huge get for the U.S. and skipper Joe Torre.
But Trout informed tournament officials that he would not be taking part because he just wanted a normal Spring Training, which he was robbed of leading up to his historic season in 2012.
"Personally, if you're asking me, I think Mike made the right decision, because of all the dynamics," Scioscia said. "Maybe the next round [in 2017], things are different and he's full go and ready to represent his country."
Rodriguez may take spot vacated by friend Izturis
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the last eight years, the Angels deployed Maicer Izturis mainly as their backup infielder.
In 2013, it could be his lifelong friend.
Luis Rodriguez, signed to a Minor League contract over the winter, grew up a couple hours away from Izturis in Venezuela. But starting at age 11, they annually played against one another in the same league. When they turned pro, they suited up for the same winter ball club. And to this day, with Izturis now with the Blue Jays, they constantly text each other.
When the Angels approached Rodriguez in mid-December, shortly after losing infielder Angel Sanchez to the White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft, Izturis was one of the first people he called.
"We always stay in touch," Rodriguez said in Spanish, "and before signing with the team, I talked to him and asked him how the team was, how the atmosphere was, and he always spoke well about the team and the organization. He's happy that I'm here."
Rodriguez -- a 32-year-old switch-hitter who can handle second base, third base and shortstop and has compiled more than 1,100 plate appearances in the Majors -- is probably a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster, with Andrew Romine homegrown and already on the 40-man.
But Rodriguez's contract allows him to opt out if he isn't in the Majors by June 1, and with a .450 batting average (9-for-20) in 10 Cactus League games, he's doing his best to make it a tough decision.
"He gives you a tough at-bat," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's really what he's about."
Rodriguez has posted a .238/.314/.324 slash line in 407 career Major League games, and spent 2012 playing for the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate, batting .296 with a .389 on-base percentage and 12 homers in 102 games.
He was shocked to never get a callup last season, and he knows he has to keep hitting to get that chance with the Angels.
"They've seen me play and everything," Rodriguez said, "but I need to show them I can hit."
• Veteran infielder Bill Hall, out since Feb. 27 because of tightness in his right quad, is running on the field, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday that he "probably needs about three or four more days" before he can appear in games again. "He's feeling much better," Scioscia added, "but not quite where he needs to be."
• Scioscia, a Pennsylvania native of Italian descent, isn't surprised to see Team Italy go 2-1 in Pool D to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. "Those guys can swing the bat, not just the Italian-Americans but some of the guys who are native Italians," Scioscia said. "They didn't show their best pitching when they played us [on Wednesday], but they obviously have some arms that are performing well. They're showing really well in it. But I'm more excited to see Team USA, to be honest with you."
• Hank Conger, competing for the backup catcher spot, made three throwing errors on Sunday -- one on an attempted steal of second and two on attempted pickoffs at first base -- and has made five errant throws on the spring. Conger did hit a homer though, and has a .412 Cactus League batting average.
• Reliever Brandon Sisk and starting pitching prospect A.J. Schugel were reassigned to Minor League camp on Sunday, the two players confirmed. The Angels will officially announce all their latest roster moves on Monday.
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.