3/24/2014 8:37 P.M. ET
Decisions loom for Angels' bench, bullpen
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With five days left before Opening Day rosters need to be set, here's what is pretty much certain about where the Angels stand with their bullpen and bench:
• Lefties Sean Burnett (recovery from August forearm surgery) and Brian Moran (left elbow inflammation) are expected to start the season on the disabled list. But Dane De La Rosa (right forearm strain) still has a chance to be ready by the Angels' first game next Monday.
• The Angels aren't expected to start the season with an eight-man bullpen, manager Mike Scioscia said Monday morning. Ernesto Frieri, Joe Smith and Kevin Jepsen have solidified spots, which leaves three or four open spots for the seven-man 'pen.
• Two of four spots on the bench seem set. Hank Conger will be the backup catcher, though Scioscia said he'll still get plenty of playing time, and John McDonald, who must be paid $100,000 to be kept off the 40-man roster as of Tuesday, looks like a lock to be the utility infielder.
The other two spots are still tough to decipher.
"There are so many combinations that we're looking at right now," Scioscia said. "Obviously we're going to need a versatile infielder; your second catcher will be on the bench. And how those other bats fall in will be something that we're going to determine this week."
The Angels could pair the right-handed bat of outfielder Collin Cowgill with the left-handed bat of infielder Ian Stewart, or the left-handed bat of outfielder J.B. Shuck with the right-handed bat of infielder Grant Green, or go with two backup outfielders in Cowgill and Shuck.
Left-handed-hitting outfielders Brennan Boesch (can opt out of his Minor League deal for an immediate Major League opportunity by Sunday) and Matt Long (batting .432 in 44 Cactus League at-bats) also remain in camp.
But Cowgill vs. Shuck looks like the most intriguing decision of all.
Both are clearly ahead in the outfield pecking order, and it's unlikely that the Angels carry two outfielders off their bench, considering they practically have four in their starting lineup.
"Cowgill has more ability to play center field and fill in in right field, but offensively they are comparable," Scioscia said. "One is going to give you a right-handed bat with some protection against lefties and one is a left-handed bat that gives you some protection against righties and helps you get a matchup, too."
Five relievers remain in camp. Four are right-handed (Michael Kohn, Fernando Salas, Brandon Lyon and Cory Rasmus) and one is left-handed (Nick Maronde). The Angels could also opt to go with one of either Joe Blanton, Matt Shoemaker or Jose Alvarez, so that they have at least one reliever who can pitch multiple innings.
But with the Angels off in seven of their first eight Thursdays, length out of a reliever isn't much of a priority.
And an all-righty bullpen is still a possibility.
"Were not going to just take a lefty to take a lefty," Scioscia said. "We're going to take a lefty that is functional that helps us get a lefty out and hold a lead. If that emerges, great. If it doesn't, we'll see where our bullpen is."
Skaggs makes solid case for rotation spot
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Tyler Skaggs is going to open up the season as the Angels' fifth starter, the 22-year-old left-hander doesn't know it yet.
"I have no clue," Skaggs said after his last Cactus League start. "No one's said anything to me."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn't like to say anything definitive before it's official -- he hasn't even declared Jered Weaver the Opening Day starter yet -- but it's been quite clear from the beginning that Skaggs is the guy.
And Monday, when he worked around seven hits and three walks to give up only two runs (one earned) to the Giants, "was a huge step forward," Scioscia said.
"There were some things he had to pitch around," Scioscia added, "but he was much more consistent with all his stuff. His arm -- you see how his stuff plays."
Skaggs, acquired along with Hector Santiago in the three-team deal that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, had a chance to win a spot in the D-backs' rotation last spring, but gave up 16 runs (11 earned) on eight walks and 14 hits in nine innings that spanned four appearances.
He's a year older now, with a 4.95 ERA that's deceiving because the Cactus League is so tough on pitchers, and a Major League spot practically carved out for him.
But he's still wondering where he stands.
"Everybody wonders," Skaggs said. "It's my livelihood. I don't want to go back to the Minor Leagues. But wherever I'm needed -- if I'm needed to go down to the Minor Leagues to work on some things, I need to go down to work on some things. But if they feel like I'm ready, then I'm ready to go."
Trout not concerned about contract talks
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Very little has been reported with regard to a potential Mike Trout contract extension ever since the Angels' 22-year-old center fielder agreed on a $1 million deal for 2014 almost a month ago, a record for a pre-arbitration player.
"I haven't heard anything, either," Trout said Monday morning. "Nothing."
Is that good or bad?
"I don't know if it's good or bad," Trout said. "I couldn't tell you. I'm just getting ready for the season. I'm just worried about getting off to a good start."
The Angels have been very tight-lipped about extension talks, and Trout's agent, Craig Landis, typically keeps everything close to the vest. Asked if there's any reason to think things have hit a snag because it hasn't happened yet, Trout, who's uncomfortable talking about contracts, said, "No, no. ... We're just getting ready for the season."
Trout landed awkwardly on a diving attempt Sunday, then struck out looking in his next two plate appearances and was the only everyday player who wasn't in the Angels' lineup Monday. But he felt fine and only had the day off to rest.
Through 17 games, he's batting .408/.463/.837 while leading the Angels in homers (five) and RBIs (16).
"I'm just happy I'm squaring up some balls," Trout said. "I feel real good at the plate. I'm right where I want to be to start the season. Trying to keep it up the middle, not trying to hit homers -- just happened to have hit five of them."
Stewart hoping to stick with hometown Angels
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ian Stewart has been told he'll be traveling with the rest of the Angels to take part in the annual exhibition Freeway Series against the Dodgers in Southern California, right where the 28-year-old infielder and current non-roster invitee grew up.
He's hoping to stay there a little longer than three days.
"I thought a lot about it since I signed in January," Stewart said of cracking the Angels' Opening Day roster. "That's where my focus is, really, just trying to make this team. I feel like if I'm a part of this team, I can help them out."
Stewart is one of three non-roster position players left in camp, alongside utility infielder John McDonald (likely to win a spot off the bench) and outfielder Brennan Boesch (perceivably a long shot at this point).
Stewart batted only .201/.292/.335 in 55 Major League games in 2012 and is coming off a frustrating 2013 season, batting .171/.303/.347 in the Minor Leagues and getting released by the Cubs in late June for voicing his frustrations over not being called up via Twitter.
But Stewart could be a good fit on the Angels, as a left-handed power bat who can play up to three infield positions. He's naturally a third baseman, but Stewart can play second base in an emergency situation and says he's starting to feel comfortable at first -- a position he's never played in the big leagues.
"I just wanted to come in here and show that I was healthy and that I can still be a quality Major League player, like I have been in the past," said Stewart, who's batting .270 with two homers in 37 at-bats this spring. "I feel real good. I've had some injuries the last few years and that's really slowed me down quite a bit. I knew I'd have to come in and prove myself a little bit, show them that I can still play, show them that I'm healthy, and I feel like I've done that so far."
• The tentative pitching schedule the rest of the week has Jered Weaver pitching in a Minor League game Tuesday, C.J. Wilson starting against the A's in Phoenix on Wednesday, Hector Santiago going against the Dodgers on Thursday, Blanton starting against the Dodgers on Friday, Garrett Richards starting the Freeway Series finale Saturday and Tyler Skaggs starting Sunday, probably in a Minor League game in Arizona because the Angels are off that day.
• The Angels drew 9,168 fans to their last 2014 game at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday, putting their total home attendance for Cactus League play at 108,965. The Angels have drawn at least 100,000 fans nine times in the last 11 springs, but the 2014 total is down from 2013 (122,587) and 2012 (130,126).
• Chris Iannetta is expected to get the majority of time behind the plate this season, though Conger will get plenty of time. "Chris has shown the ability to catch a little bit more, but I think also the ability to have Hank to balance that and take a little pressure off Chris from having to extend himself will keep Chris fresh and keep Hank productive," Scioscia said. "But they're both going to get plenty of playing time."
• De La Rosa was "really sharp" in a bullpen session Monday, his second since exiting the March 6 game with a right forearm strain, Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said. The likely next step for De La Rosa is to pitch in a Minor League game Wednesday. He's still hopeful of being ready by Opening Day on March 31, but it'll be close.
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.