As Spring Training Begins, Angels’ Pitching In Flux

Two years ago, the Angels began spring training with C.J. Wilson set to make the Angles big two of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren a big three, with Ervin Santana rounding out an impressive four-man group at the top of the rotation. When the season ended, Weaver had won 20 games, but the other three ended a combined 34-36, and the team finished a disappointing third, though winning 87 games.

A year ago, the team had signed Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton and traded for Jason Vargas, and hopes were high for a strong, top-to-bottom five man rotation, with those three behind Weaver and Wilson. Only Wilson was to be a consistent performer, winning 17, as Weaver had an injury-plagued year winning only 11, as Hanson and Vargas each also suffered through a series of injuries, combining for 13 wins, and as the disaster that was

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Joe Blanton compiled a 2-14 record. The Angels again finished third, but far behind the division’s two top teams, compiling a 78-84 record.

Disdaining veteran, high-priced acquisitions, this year the team comes to camp with Weaver, Wilson and prospect-on-the-verge Garrett Richards in the top three spots, with bottom-shelf untested youngsters Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs the frontrunners for spots four and five, with only Blanton and Nick Maronde as viable alternatives should either blow their spring shots. Expectations for the team are

significantly reduced this spring, as the team is picked to again finish third.

Prior to camp’s official opening, the comeback of former major league starter Mark Mulder, who was attempting a comeback after five years, ended before it began with him suffering a torn Achilles. Mulder was never more than the longest of long shots to make the team, let along secure a rotation spot, but combining this with what has now been reported to have been a lost opportunity to sign Matt Garza, there will be considerable

pressure on three young pitchers to fill spots that in the past have been occupied by veterans who were accustomed to the inherent pressures and challenges of starting for a team full of star names but with little success to show for it all.

The start of camp also saw a possible crimp in the team’s bullpen plans, with veteran lefty Sean Burnett, who threw only 9-2/3 innings last season and who is coming off tendon surgery, far behind his

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anticipated schedule. The thought was that he would be ready for the start of the season, but that now looks very unlikely as he is not yet close to throwing off a mound.

Manager Mike Scioscia and gm Jerry Dipoto got reprieves after last year’s disaster. They need to shape up a pitching staff that will be more than competitive this season, as both their jobs are absolutely on the line. The Angels cannot get off to a start like the 18-25 and 17-27 starts of the last two seasons, or heads could roll very early.

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