Angels' Luis Valbuena looks for good start after strong finish in 2017

Angels' Luis Valbuena looks for good start after strong finish in 2017

  • Infielder Luis Valbuena waits to hit during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Infielder Luis Valbuena waits to hit during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Infielder Luis Valbuena throws during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Infielder Luis Valbuena throws during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Infielder Luis Valbuena waits to hit during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Infielder Luis Valbuena waits to hit during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Infielder Luis Valbuena fields a grounder during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Infielder Luis Valbuena fields a grounder during the Angels’ spring training workout at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Angels’ Luis Valbuena hits during the Angels’ spring training workout at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)

MESA, Ariz. — The Angels are hoping to get a full year of the Luis Valbuena they saw in the second half last year.

“You saw the ability to drive the ball,” Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday. “You saw his on-base splits, as far as being able to get on base when he doesn’t expand the zone. He swung the bat well in the second half for us. That’s what we need.”

Valbuena finished the season with a .199 average. The story beyond that, however, was the way he performed after the All-Star break.

In the second half, Valbuena hit .213 with a .320 on-base percentage and a .546 slugging percentage, for an .866 OPS that was more than respectable. He hit 16 homers in his final 61 games.

One of the reasons the Angels believe Valbuena can do better is that his batting average on balls in play for the season was .210, well below his career average of .268 leading up to the season. That would suggest an element of bad luck.

Valbuena also suggested that the six weeks he was out with a strained hamstring affected him for the first month or two when he came back.

“It’s a long time not to see pitching,” he said.

Getting a healthy Valbuena, with his timing, will be important for the Angels because he projects to be their first baseman in the 50 or 60 games in which Albert Pujols is the designated hitter. With a three-man bench that no longer includes right-handed hitting C.J. Cron, who was traded, the Angels also may look to Valbuena to start against lefties more often than he did last year.

“I am ready for everything,” Valbuena said. “Wherever he wants me to play. Wherever he wants me in the lineup, I’m ready.”

Also

— The Milwaukee Brewers were eager to be the first team to get a look at Shohei Ohtani. On Friday, the day before Ohtani’s spring debut against the Brewers, manager Craig Counsell told reporters: “We’re going into a fun atmosphere. I think the players will tell you the same thing. Any time we can go into a fun atmosphere, we’re excited for it.” …

— The Angels “were an option” Major League Baseball considered for the season-opening series in Japan in 2019, according to Tim Mead, the team’s vice president in charge of communications. Mead said the decision to instead have the Oakland A’s play the Seattle Mariners occurred at the MLB level, without the Angels pulling out of the game. The A’s-Mariners series was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. …

— Outfielder Jabari Blash, who was acquired by the Angels on Wednesday after the New York Yankees designated him for assignment, worked out with the team Friday. Blash said he was happy to be with the Angels, but he also enjoyed a couple days around Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge with the Yankees. “It might be a circus because everyone is huge and they have some phenomenal athletes there,” he said. “It was great to be a part of New York for that brief time. For me, that page is over now. It’s great to be here.” …

— Hisanori Takahashi, who pitched for the Angels in 2011, was in camp Friday morning as a member of the media. He is now working for NHK, a TV network in Japan. …

— Former Angels lefty Jim Abbott has also been in camp as a guest instructor this week.

Angels' Ohtani to make spring debut Saturday

Angels' Ohtani to make spring debut Saturday

Multitalented Japanese pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani will make his spring training debut for the Los Angeles Angels on the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday.

“I feel that this is a big step forward,” Ohtani told reporters Thursday, via an interpreter. “I’m really happy at this point.

“This will be my first start in the States; I’m pretty sure a lot of things aren’t going to go my way. That’s OK. I just need to find what I need to adjust and feel where I’m at, and it’s going to be enough.”

He threw a bullpen session Thursday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said then that it would be unlikely Ohtani would make any pinch-hitting appearances early in spring training.

Ohtani also took batting practice Thursday, wowing teammates with home runs over the scoreboard and the batter’s eye at Tempe Diablo Stadium, according to multiple media reports.

“I’m enjoying fooling around with my teammates and having a lot of fun,” Ohtani said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Angels’ Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

Angels’ Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

(Reuters) – Japanese two-way standout Shohei Ohtani will make his first start for the Los Angeles Angels when he pitches in a spring training game on Saturday, the Angels said on Thursday. Ohtani, the former Nippon Ham Fighters player who signed with the Angels in December, is scheduled to pitch two

Angels' Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

Angels' Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

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Feb 22, 2018; Tempe, AZ, USA; Members of the media photograph Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani during media day at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Japanese two-way standout Shohei Ohtani will make his first start for the Los Angeles Angels when he pitches in a spring training game on Saturday, the Angels said on Thursday.

He is the first player in nearly 100 years to attempt to play in the big leagues as a pitcher and hitter and has drawn comparisons with Babe Ruth, who began his career as a pitcher before becoming a Hall of Fame slugger for the New York Yankees.

Ohtani, the former Nippon Ham Fighters player who signed with the Angels in December, is scheduled to pitch two innings against the Milwaukee Brewers at Diablo Stadium, the Angels’ spring training home in Tempe, Arizona.

A right-hander, Ohtani, 23, had a 2.52 earned run average in five season with the Ham Fighters and is expected to be part of a six-man rotation for the Angels, who play in the American League.

He is not expected to make his hitting debut until Monday since Angels manager Mike Scioscia has said Ohtani will not hit the day he pitches or the day after.

The left-handed batter hit .332 in 2017 and slugged 48 home runs in 1,035 career at-bats in Japan. He homered in batting practice with the Angels last week.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

With Cozart joining Angels infield, the defense never rests

With Cozart joining Angels infield, the defense never rests

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels are all about defense.

And by signing Zack Cozart, an All-Star shortstop with Cincinnati last year, to a three-year $38 million deal in the offseason they might now have baseball’s best defensive infield.

For the Angels, Cozart will play third base. He joins two reigning Gold Glove winners in shortstop Andrelton Simmons and catcher Martin Maldonado. Then there’s second baseman Ian Kinsler, who won the award in the American League in 2016 and was a finalist last year.

“We’re going to be good defensively,” Cozart said. “It’s going to be fun.”

At the plate, Cozart could be the unusual major leaguer who blossoms in his late 20s or early 30s, a path blazed bythe likes of Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner.

In seven years with the Reds, he hit .254 with a .716 OPS.

But last year, at age 31, Cozart earned his first All-Star appearance last year by putting together a career season. He finished with a .297 average with 24 homers, 63 RBIs.

Cozart credits a simple adjustment. He used to hold his hands high in his batting stance, which he believes led to over-thinking in his approach to hitting.

“It used to mess with my rhythm a lot,” he said. “It was tough for me to synch up with the pitcher.”

Last spring, he decided to simply put the bat on his shoulder, which he believes simplified his approach.

“If felt really weird at first,” he said.

Then in his first at bat last spring, he hit a home run.

“I thought, ‘Man it can’t be that easy, right?'” he said. “I took it into the year. I got more and more comfortable with it. It just took off.”

Manager Mike Scioscia said Cozart has the look of “a guy who is coming into his own.”

“It’s a great sign when a player improves with age and he uses that experience to make some adjustments and become more consistent, particularly on the offensive end of his game,” he said.

His experience at shortstop is a big plus because he is expected to play the position when Simmons needs a break. This is especially important considering the Angels will have a thin position-player bench because they will carry six starting pitchers and seven relievers.

“If you have guys on the team who are versatile and not one-dimensional — on defense especially — it makes it a lot easier on the manager,” Cozart said.

Cozart chose the Angels after the club re-signed Justin Upton then persuaded Japanese pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani to join them. In Cozart’s mind, this meant the Angels wanted to win.

“That was most important at this point in my career,” he said.

Cozart got to play in the postseason in his first two full seasons with the Reds (2012-13), but the team declined thereafter.

“The last four years weren’t so good,” he said. “I wanted to get back to the playoffs.”

NOTES: Ohtani is set to start the Angels’ spring home opener Saturday afternoon vs. Milwaukee. Ohtani threw a bullpen session on Thursday. . Nick Tropeano is scheduled to start the Angels’ opener Friday in Mesa against Oakland. Tropeano, competing for the final spot in the six-man rotation, missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2016.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Baseball-Angels' Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

Baseball-Angels' Ohtani to make pitching start on Saturday

Feb 22 (Reuters) – Japanese two-way standout Shohei Ohtani will make his first start for the Los Angeles Angels when he pitches in a spring training game on Saturday, the Angels said on Thursday.

He is the first player in nearly 100 years to attempt to play in the big leagues as a pitcher and hitter and has drawn comparisons with Babe Ruth, who began his career as a pitcher before becoming a Hall of Fame slugger for the New York Yankees.

Ohtani, the former Nippon Ham Fighters player who signed with the Angels in December, is scheduled to pitch two innings against the Milwaukee Brewers at Diablo Stadium, the Angels’ spring training home in Tempe, Arizona.

A right-hander, Ohtani, 23, had a 2.52 earned run average in five season with the Ham Fighters and is expected to be part of a six-man rotation for the Angels, who play in the American League.

He is not expected to make his hitting debut until Monday since Angels manager Mike Scioscia has said Ohtani will not hit the day he pitches or the day after.

The left-handed batter hit .332 in 2017 and slugged 48 home runs in 1,035 career at-bats in Japan. He homered in batting practice with the Angels last week. (Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)