Spring training questions: Los Angeles Angels

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Maicer Izturis beat out Howie Kendrick at second base or Brandon Wood at third base?
Izturis finished last season as the starting second baseman against right-handers, and the Angels made a commitment to him last month, giving him a three-year, $10 million deal that bought out his first two seasons of free agency. Still, that doesn’t necessarily make him a starter. Kendrick hit .358/.391/.558 in 165 at-bats during the second half of last season, and the 26-year-old is clearly worthy of another opportunity to play regularly. Wood is out of options, so it’s now or never for the former top prospect. Odds are that Izturis will end up with 400 at-bats, but the Angels should go ahead and try the guys with more upside first.
2. Can Brian Fuentes hold off newcomers Fernando Rodney and reemerge as a quality closer?
Fuentes led the majors with 48 saves last season, but he also blew seven chances, took five losses and posted his worst ERA (3.93) and WHIP (1.40) since 2004. After the All-Star break, he gave up 13 runs and posted a 12/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. Wanting to shore up the pen, the Angels gave Rodney a two-year, $11 million contract over the winter. Rodney had worse marks in ERA (4.40) and WHIP (1.47) than Fuentes last season, but he managed to convert 37 of his 38 save chances for the Tigers. If Fuentes gets off to a rough start at all, the Angels might want to have the two switch roles. Rodney is no better of a pitcher than Fuentes, but he may play better in the ninth. Plus, if Fuentes isn’t locked into the closer’s role, manager Mike Scioscia can do a better job of playing matchups with him.
3. With Chone Figgins gone to Seattle, will the Angels get quality OBPs from the top of the order?
The guess was that the first two spots in the order would be divided between Erick Aybar, Izturis and Kendrick this year. However, Scioscia is again talking about using Bobby Abreu there. It worked out very well last year — he scored 36 runs and drove in 40 in his 50 games as a No. 2 hitter — but Scioscia still preferred him batting third. As things stand now, the Angels could be looking at the following lineup:
SS Aybar
RF Abreu
CF Torii Hunter
DH Hideki Matsui
1B Kendry Morales
LF Juan Rivera
2B Kendrick
C Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis
3B Wood
When Izturis starts against right-handers — something that figures to happen a lot — it’s possible he’ll lead off, with Aybar getting dropped to the ninth spot.
Hitting Abreu second clearly is the best strategy for the Angels. If Abreu bats third, that means either Morales or Matsui would hit sixth and there’s no reason for either to be down that low. The Angels will be just fine if they get a .350 OBP from Aybar and Izturis in the leadoff spot and then Abreu’s .370-.390. We’ll just have to wait and see if Scioscia sticks to the plan this time.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.