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  1. TEMPE, Ariz. — Two days into the next step of his rehab, Shohei Ohtani was already looking ahead. After he hit off a tee for the second consecutive day Saturday, Ohtani said he is looking forward to hitting balls flipped from a coach next week. “It’s very exciting,” Ohtani said through his interpreter of his continued progress. “Obviously it’s still the early stages of rehab. My next step will be hitting flips, and I’m excited to take that step. … If all goes well, no setbacks, I am thinking sometime next week.” Ohtani, who took 25 swings Saturday, added that he’s already swinging at 100 percent effort. Ohtani began hitting baseballs a day before the Angels’ first game of the Cactus League, seemingly leaving plenty of time for him to get ready, if not by opening day, perhaps sometime in April. Manager Brad Ausmus said just before the start of spring training that the Angels were expecting Ohtani in the lineup sometime in May. On Saturday morning, he reiterated that there’s no rush. “We are not going to risk his term success as a pitcher and a hitter just to speed him up off the tee or soft toss,” Ausmus said. “It’s just not in the plan. He’ll move to the next step when all parties think he’s ready for the next step.” Ohtani, who had Tommy John surgery Oct. 1, still has to progress to hitting soft toss, and then to take regular batting practice thrown by a coach. After that, he will face live pitching. Throughout the process, Ohtani has outwardly maintained the same demeanor he had while he was healthy last year. “My spirits have been high ever since I decided to have the surgery,” he said. “It’s never fallen down. I am just trying to strive to get back to playing.” Ohtani also spoke about the extra large bobbleheads of him the Angels have for sale. They are selling 24 of them for $1,000 apiece. “I wouldn’t buy that,” Ohtani said. “I’d be pretty sad if it’s not sold out.” Related Articles Angels’ Kole Calhoun looks to put erratic 2018 behind him and stay consistent Alexander: The older you are, the colder MLB’s Free Agent Freeze II is Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hits off a tee for the first time since surgery Angels’ Tyler Skaggs looks to erase a forgettable finish after a great start last year Angels players ‘engaged’ in meeting with union head after frustrating winter for players ALSO Justin Upton (knee tendinitis) was expected to stand in for some live batting practice Saturday, Ausmus said. “He’s getting closer to swinging against some pitchers,” Ausmus said… Albert Pujols could play in one of the Angels’ three games over the next two days, Ausmus said. The Angels had said they would take it slowly this spring with Pujols, who had two surgeries last year, but he appears to be not far behind the other players… Although Zack Cozart was hitting leadoff in the Angels’ first lineup of the spring, Ausmus said it’s just because the veteran players will hit at the top of the lineup to get their at-bats more quickly. He said Cozart is merely one of the candidates to hit leadoff during the season. View the full article
  2. TEMPE, Ariz. >> Kole Calhoun approached the batting cage with caution this winter. He went in only when supervised. “I didn’t hit by myself and screw myself up,” the Angels right fielder said. “So that’s good…. I made sure I had eyes on me when I was working.” Calhoun said that in past winters he’s hit without a coach and ended up making changes to his swing. “That’s led me to some not so good things.” Like, the worst start of his career, a miserable two-month start to 2018 in which Calhoun thoroughly lost himself on the way to a .145 average. Calhoun rediscovered himself after a trip to disabled list and some time with hitting coaches Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten, who were working in the minor leagues at the time. So it makes sense that Calhoun was reluctant to get too much time in the cage this winter without either Reed or Wooten, who are now on the Angels major league coaching staff. “I didn’t want to take a step back,” Calhoun said. “I worked so hard to get where I was toward the second half of last year that I have the dark days of my career hopefully behind me. I don’t want to get into any bad habits that I created last year.” Calhoun said last winter he tried to rework his swing to become more consistent and hit the ball in the air more. But, without the proper instruction, what Calhoun actually did was hit more balls on the ground. For a pull hitter like him, who often faces a shift, ground balls are outs, and Calhoun’s numbers plummeted. A strained oblique — probably the result of too many swings in the cage to try to get right — sent Calhoun to the disabled list in early June. He returned to his offseason home in Arizona. That’s when he started working with Reed and Wooten. When Calhoun returned, he had a new stance, and he proceeded to have one of the best extended streaks of his career. For the next two months, he hit .291 with a .926 OPS. Although he slumped again in September, he still finished with an .800 OPS over the season’s final 87 games. With the good and bad combined, Calhoun hit .208 with a .652 OPS. “I probably learned more about myself and hitting last year than I ever have,” he said, “and it was my worst year.” For that, Calhoun can largely thank Reed and Wooten. Now that both have been promoted to the major league staff, they’ll be around every day of the season. “That’s awesome,” Calhoun said. “I couldn’t be more excited to have those guys and be with them day in and day out. There are so many things that change, day to day, just not repeating the same routine. There are very little mechanical things that to the naked eye most people wouldn’t see, and to them they are very magnified. It was awesome to find out they were going to be here.” Asked about some of the details of what happened last year, Calhoun said “I don’t even think I fully understand it. That’s the mastermind that is Shawn Wooten and Jeremy Reed.” Reed, who will be on a big league coaching staff for the first time after spending five years working with minor leaguers, said that they’ve been working for months with Calhoun to try to rediscover what he found last summer. “We’re collectively bouncing ideas off each other to get the best version of Kole that we can get,” Reed said. Manager Brad Ausmus said he believes the version who returned after the trip to the disabled list is the real Calhoun. “I don’t think the first two months of Kole Calhoun was Kole Calhoun, so I don’t even factor that into the equation, really,” Ausmus said. “I think when he came off the DL, that’s more the guy we’re going to get.” Ausmus is also happy to have the Calhoun who is more of a clubhouse presence that he imagined before joining the Angels. “He has a great energy,” Ausmus said. “He’s a hard worker. He is a very good influence.” The Angels have Calhoun penciled in again as their everyday right fielder, despite the inconsistency of last year. This is the final guaranteed year of his contract, with an option for $14 million for 2020. Related Articles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hits off a tee for the first time since surgery Angels’ Tyler Skaggs looks to erase a forgettable finish after a great start last year Angels players ‘engaged’ in meeting with union head after frustrating winter for players Thirty major league teams, one algorithm? Not so fast, say executives Angels’ Andrelton Simmons feels stronger, hoping to increase power this season Jo Adell, one of the top prospects in baseball, is looming, likely to take over for Calhoun in right field eventually. Whether that happens this year or next year or in 2021 remains to be seen. Calhoun, 31, brings the normal sense of urgency to prove himself. “I’ve had a chip on a my shoulder since I got into this game,” said Calhoun, a former eighth-round draft pick who long ago exceeded the expectations many had for his big league career. He is quick to point out, however, that he’s not going to worry about his numbers this year. He’s already been through that. “It’s very nice to put 2018 behind me and be batting .000 again,” he said. “That was a grind of a season. It really really was. I was probably as bad as I’ve ever been and as good as I’ve ever been in the same year. It’s a crazy game. I’m definitely not going to take anything for granted. I’m going to work and keep getting better and help this team win, instead of worrying so much about myself.” View the full article
  3. Charlie Finley was way ahead of his time, evidently. The innovative, eccentric owner of the Oakland A’s, who died in 1996, was the first owner to lose a free agent (Catfish Hunter to the Yankees in the winter of ’74). He was the first to conduct a fire sale when true free agency arrived in 1976, trading Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to Baltimore during spring training and then attempting to sell Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue in cash transactions. The commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, blocked them “in the best interests of baseball.” Whatever happened to that precedent? Finley had another idea that didn’t get much traction from his fellow owners – maybe because he was considered the crazy uncle nobody listened to – but the echoes of it seem to be rattling around today’s depressed free agent market. His idea? Full free agency for everybody. Get rid of the reserve system and put everyone on one-year contracts, and at the end of every season the law of supply and demand regulates the market. It was genius. The players, clamoring for the freedom of the open market, would have had to agree, and Players Association leader Marvin Miller noted years later in an interview with the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro that it would have seemed “better for the players than it was, and not nearly as good as it turned out. And I think if the owners could turn back the clock, look at this with a clear eye, they might see things different, too. Thankfully they didn’t.” No, but a new crop of owners and executives might have figured out how to guide the system back toward short-term deals. Look at the list of this year’s class of free agents on MLBTradeRumors.com and see if you spot a pattern. A total of 257 players filed at the beginning of the offseason. As of Friday afternoon, 48 had not yet signed, an eclectic mixture of guys who can help a club, guys who are hanging on and guys who at best should get minor-league contracts (as Ervin Santana did from the Chicago White Sox on Friday). Of the remaining 209, 34 have received multi-year contracts. Considering that most of the still-unsigned players will be lucky to get a year if they get anything, this means that maybe 15 percent, tops, of this winter’s free agents will have received deals covering two years or more. And there is a pattern within the pattern. With the significant exception of 26-year-old Bryce Harper, who is still waiting for a 10-year deal, and 29-year-olds Jose Iglesias, Casey Kelly and Brad Miller, everyone on that unsigned list is on the north side of 30. And of those 35 multi-year deals, 22 of them are two-year contracts … and 21 of those went to players 30 or older. Let’s stipulate now that there will be no reprise any time soon of Albert Pujols’ 10-year contract, which he signed just before he turned 32 and is now an albatross at age 39. That said, shouldn’t there be a middle ground? “I think there’s this thinking that once you get to be 31, 32 years old, your talent is going to drop off,” agent Larry Reynolds said a year ago. “You know, I strongly disagree with that. “I’ve witnessed firsthand a guy like Torii Hunter who goes out, signs a five-year deal at age 32, and then comes back and does another deal. He (was) playing at 39, going on 40 years old, and at 34, 36, he was having some of the best years of his career.” The guys at the top of the market get most of the attention, of course. Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres was officially announced Friday, and he and fellow 26-year-old Harper will be fine. But baseball’s middle class is getting hammered, again. As we’ve indicated, the vast majority are older, and they came up in a clubhouse culture promising that players who made it through six seasons of team control – and, remember, have a limited earning window anyway – would eventually get their shot at financial security in free agency. That implied promise has been broken. At one end, teams manipulate service time to start the arbitration and free agent clock a year later. You can bet it will happen with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in Toronto this year, as it did with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña last year, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in 2015, etc. At the other end, when players hit free agency, they’re now getting the take-it-or-leave-it treatment. Related Articles Angels’ Kole Calhoun looks to put erratic 2018 behind him and stay consistent Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hits off a tee for the first time since surgery Clayton Kershaw ‘taking a few days,’ throwing program on hold Dodgers have a healthy group of choices in the bullpen Angels’ Tyler Skaggs looks to erase a forgettable finish after a great start last year I am curious just how much flak MLBPA director Tony Clark and his lieutenants will be receiving in the clubhouses they visit this spring. Colleague Jeff Fletcher quoted Clark as saying that Angels players were “engaged” during their meeting Thursday. Is that maybe a euphemism for “demanding answers?” It should be. It was always the strength of the Players Association, under Miller and Don Fehr – labor lawyers both – that players understood the adversarial nature of the labor-management divide. Miller and Fehr had their roots in the Paleozoic Era of baseball’s player-management relationship, when it truly was a take-it-or-leave-it environment and the Players Association had to fight for every inch of progress. We have now had nearly two decades of labor peace, but that streak could well be in jeopardy when the collective bargaining agreement comes up for discussion in 2021. But before you start siding with the billionaires against the millionaires, ask yourself this: If your favorite team’s payroll goes down, do ticket prices, parking and concessions also go down? Didn’t think so. jalexander@scng.com @Jim_Alexander on Twitter View the full article
  4. TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani advanced to the next step in his rehab by hitting off a tee on Friday. After about two weeks of taking swings without a ball, Ohtani stepped up his rehab by spending 15 minutes hitting balls. The Angels have given no public timeline for the individual steps in Ohtani’s rehab from Tommy John surgery, but manager Brad Ausmus said it’s realistic to expect him to be ready to be the Angels designated hitter in May. His next step will be hitting balls flipped from a coach, followed by batting practice thrown by a coach, and then live batting practice against a pitcher. Angels general manager Billy Eppler said the team would not introduce a new hitting element in the same week as a new pitching element, which could slow his rehab somewhat. Ohtani said he’s expecting to start throwing sometime around the end of spring training. Related Articles Angels’ Tyler Skaggs looks to erase a forgettable finish after a great start last year Angels players ‘engaged’ in meeting with union head after frustrating winter for players Thirty major league teams, one algorithm? Not so fast, say executives Angels’ Andrelton Simmons feels stronger, hoping to increase power this season Angels look to high-tech gadgets to get the most out of their pitchers ALSO Rain pelted the Phoenix area for a second straight day, limiting the Angels workouts. They delayed the start of the workout because of morning rain, and then were able to squeeze in only about an hour on the field before the rain returned. Hitters have been hitting and pitchers have been throwing in the indoor cages, so the biggest issue is the lack of time for defensive work. The Angels may also be limited even in subsequent days because there are no tarps for their practice fields, which have have taken on significant water… Matt Harvey is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Saturday, his second time on the mound since missing a few days with a strained glute. Harvey is one bullpen session behind the other starting pitchers. … Zack Cozart and Jonathan Lucroy are expected to be in the lineup for Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the San Francisco Giants. Most of the other regulars, including Mike Trout, will begin playing in the coming days. View the full article
  5. TEMPE, Ariz. — When Tyler Skaggs saw his locker placement at Tempe Diablo Stadium, he immediately texted a picture to Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards. The locker that had belonged to Weaver and then Richards — the one that controls the clubhouse music — now belongs to Skaggs. “It’s the passing of the torch,” Skaggs said with a smile. “It’s maybe just because it’s my fifth year here. The fact that I’m the longest tenured pitcher here is crazy to think about. It’s definitely different. It’s exciting. It’s a challenge.” The locker assignment may simply be a matter of seniority, but Skaggs is nonetheless primed to take over the mantle as the leader of the Angels’ rotation. He is 27, just staring his prime, and doing so after a year in which he showed for half a season what he and his supporters always believed he could be. Last June 15, Skaggs had a 2.81 ERA after his 14th start of the season. He was headed toward a potential spot in the All-Star Game. His new changeup had proven to be a weapon, to go with his signature curve ball. When the season ended, though, Skaggs would have to live with a 4.02 ERA on the back of his baseball card forever. “Honestly, the last month and a half of the season left such a bad taste in my mouth from everything,” he said. “The way people viewed me. I don’t want to talk much about last year, but it left a salty taste in my mouth and I’m out to show everybody that’s not who I am. I’m excited to regain what I captured the first half of last season and maintain that.” What happened was a weight room incident followed by what Skaggs admitted was a lapse in judgment. He said he “tried to be a hero.” Working out in the weight room, Skaggs tweaked his groin. Instead of going on the disabled list for a few weeks to let it heal completely, Skaggs simply had his next start pushed back a few days. At that time in mid June the Angels had just seen Shohei Ohtani and Richards both go on the disabled list in the previous week. Skaggs was pitching well and wanted to keep going. However, as he tried to pitch through the injury, it didn’t heal, and he would eventually have back-to-back nightmare games, in which he allowed 17 runs in 6-2/3 innings. At that point, in mid August and with the Angels out of it, Skaggs took off a month to get well, something he admitted later he should have done in the first place. It was the second straight season that Skaggs had fallen victim to muscular injuries, including missing half of 2017 with an oblique strain. He’s been free of any arm issues since July 2016, when he returned from Tommy John surgery. Related Articles Thirty major league teams, one algorithm? Not so fast, say executives Angels’ Andrelton Simmons feels stronger, hoping to increase power this season Angels look to high-tech gadgets to get the most out of their pitchers Angels’ Justin Upton aims to be ready for Opening Day, not early spring training games Angels owner Arte Moreno addresses team’s payroll, stadium and GM Billy Eppler In order to help with the rest of his body, Skaggs spent his winter with a new workout routine, including yoga. He hopes this will make him more flexible and less prone to those type of injuries. He also traveled to Florida to work with fitness guru Eric Cressey. As for pitching, Skaggs has continued to refine the changeup. He’s also all-in on the technology the Angels have started using to help optimize their performances. He’s been working with pitching coach Doug White in Arizona for three weeks, including two weeks before spring training even began. “I wanted to get things really locked in,” he said. Manager Brad Ausmus, who was a special assistant to general manager Billy Eppler last season, watched Skaggs begin to emerge last season, and he believes 2019 could be the next step. “I actually think he can be an All-Star, quite frankly,” Ausmus said. “I think he’s got that type of ability. He showed flashes of it last year. That’s part of the reason why I think he can actually do it.” View the full article
  6. TEMPE, Ariz. >> The Angels were the first team to get a crack at officially voicing their concerns over a winter of discontent to the head of the Major League Players’ Association. Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, began his annual tour of the 30 spring training camps with a visit to the Angels before their workout on Thursday. Clark characterized the Angels players as “engaged,” after a winter in which there were continued complaints from players around the majors about the slow pace of the free agent market. “We compete against each other because we want to compete against the best,” Clark said. “Right now we can’t say in the game the best players are on the field.” Even after Manny Machado agreed to a reported 10-year, $300-million contract, Clark said that “one player signing does not suggest that the system is fine.” There are still dozens of unsigned free agents, most notably Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Marwin Gonzalez. “We’re glad Manny found a home,” Clark said. “We’re curious as to why it took as long as it did. And we’re still concerned about the players that are out there and their phones aren’t ringing.” Clark also said there’s been a pattern in which players have gotten no calls, then multiple calls from different teams on the same day. “We find that interesting,” he said. The slow market has gotten to the point that St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright suggested players might strike this summer. Clark said that’s not possible because they have a contract that runs through 2021, but that Wainwright’s comments “suggest the seriousness of what we’re seeing and the concern that guys have about where the industry is and where it’s going.” Clark also said they are in ongoing negotiations about on-field rule changes that could be implemented, including a pitch clock. “There’s a dialogue about a pitch clock but it’s not at the forefront of the conversation because guys wholeheartedly believe that’s not the issue we have,” he said. “The issues that we have go far beyond saving a few seconds in any one night.” Among the Angels-specific concerns, Clark said the union is keeping a close eye on the conditions for the Angels series in Monterrey, Mexico, in May. “There are challenges any time you leave your home stadium,” Clark said. “You know one thing is a player you fall into a nice pattern of knowing where you’re supposed to go and when you’re supposed to show up and what the amenities are…. There are challenges that result from stepping out of that norm and changing your workplace environment.” Related Articles Thirty major league teams, one algorithm? Not so fast, say executives Angels’ Andrelton Simmons feels stronger, hoping to increase power this season Angels look to high-tech gadgets to get the most out of their pitchers Angels’ Justin Upton aims to be ready for Opening Day, not early spring training games Angels owner Arte Moreno addresses team’s payroll, stadium and GM Billy Eppler The Dodgers and Padres played last year in Monterrey, and there are two exhibition games scheduled for that ballpark in March. NOTES Rain washed out all of the Angels on-field workouts for Thursday. They had players hit in indoor cages, and pitchers also threw bullpen sessions in the indoor mounds. … Manager Brad Ausmus said some of the everyday players will be playing when the Cactus League schedule begins on Saturday. Last year the Angels had none of their veterans playing at the start of spring training because the number of days of workouts before the first game had been decreased. View the full article
  7. What’s in a baseball algorithm? That’s a multimillion-dollar question these days. Chicago Cubs pitcher Brad Brach told the team’s beat writers last week that his free agency ended with six or seven offers that were “all about the same.” He ended up signing a one-year contract worth $4.35 million with an option for 2020. That’s good money for anyone, even a middle reliever, but something left Brach feeling frustrated. “It’s kind of weird,” he said, “that all offers are the same that come around at the same time and everyone tells you there’s an algorithm, and you figure teams have different ones.” Has the method for evaluating a baseball player truly been reduced to an equation that looks more or less the same from team to team? In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week, the agent for Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong seemed to echo this idea: “If the balance on the scale tilts so far in the direction of strict analytics,” Burton Rocks said, “baseball’s game is going to suffer, baseball’s global marketing will suffer because it is the player’s personalities that drive interest in the game.” It’s no secret that analytics hold more influence over front office decisions with each passing year. Like it or not, baseball is more of a numbers game than ever. Here’s a better-kept secret: where hasn’t analytics taken a stranglehold over teams’ decision-making processes? If not for players like Brach or DeJong, for whom do the algorithms differ? I put these questions to executives this week at the annual Cactus League media day for managers and general managers. Their answers pointed to a less homogenous climate than the most jaded free agents would have you believe. One outspoken player agent I spoke to described the gap between the most and least analytically reliant front offices as the “Grand (expletive) Canyon.” Yet within the industry, there isn’t even consensus about which front office uses analytics the most and which uses analytics the least. “We don’t have an algorithm,” Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said. “We certainly look at all the objective information that’s put out there publicly and privately. We have scouts, and I don’t think other teams have access to our scouting reports. We obviously have personal histories and makeup that we gather from around the league that I would doubt other teams are getting. “I’m not sure that (teams’ player evaluation processes) look as similar as you’re alluding to, but there may be some similarities at least within the objective data, because a lot of that’s public.” While a team’s scouting reports remain private, there’s a reason nearly 100 scout positions have reportedly been eliminated across Major League Baseball in recent years. Much of the data clubs once relied on scouts to gather – pitch velocity, pitch movement, a hitter’s tendencies, a fielder’s range – can be quantified with more precision than ever. A lot of this quantitative data is publicly available, much of it via MLB’s Statcast technology. With fewer scouts on the payroll, and more data publicly available, the information gap between the best and worst scouting departments in baseball should shrink (in theory). But how does one quantify a player’s “personal history and makeup” that the Diamondbacks scrutinize? Can it even be quantified? “It’s all qualitative,” Hazen said. “I don’t have anything quantitative. We try to gather as much information as we can, try to get to know who they are.” I put the same question to Reds general manager Nick Krall, and a difference quickly emerged in baseball’s allegedly homogenous algorithms. “You can look at it a couple different ways,” Krall said of a player’s makeup. “You can put all the qualitative stuff into a list, and try to figure out a quantitative viewpoint.” At least one free agent was weighing offers that differed by $100 million. Manny Machado ended one of the closest-watched free-agent pursuits in years Tuesday, reportedly agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. Wednesday, one report indicated that Machado could have expected a $220-240 million payday from the New York Yankees. The Chicago White Sox’s final 8-year offer reportedly included two option years that would have paid Machado a total of $320 million. Machado’s free-agent case was somewhat of a unicorn. He is 26 years old, coming off his most productive offensive season ever, after having switched to a premium position (shortstop) in 2018. Unlike some free agents, Machado did not receive and reject a qualifying offer last November. That would have cost his signing team a draft pick. Machado’s free-agent case was typical in one respect at least. His 2018 season, split between Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Dodger Stadium, demonstrated the power one ballpark can have over a hitter’s impact. Machado had a .360 batting average, .448 on-base percentage, and a .691 slugging percentage in Baltimore last year. In Los Angeles, he slashed .279/.360/.514. For every front office, what a hitter will do in their ballpark can cause quantitative evaluations to vary wildly. “You look at our ballpark, it’s a hitter’s park,” Krall said. “Different players are probably going to perform a little differently than they would in Seattle, Cleveland – the larger parks. Whether it’s your lineup or ballpark, every place has different factors that go into creating their team.” “We think about it with every player we acquire,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “The right-hand gap hitter usually does better in our park than the right-hand bomber, until you get to that crazy power level. The pitchers, our ballpark usually provides more of a soft landing for the fly-ball pitcher, similar to what the Big A did. We were able to build staffs that we might give up a few more homers, but it wouldn’t cripple us because our ballparks allowed us to use that to our advantage. “We thought about it all the time: trades, free agents, whatever.” Related Articles Julio Urias is healthy and ready to help the Dodgers Angels’ Andrelton Simmons feels stronger, hoping to increase power this season Angels look to high-tech gadgets to get the most out of their pitchers No surprise – Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw will make ninth Opening Day start Inside the Dodgers: A closer look at a key detail of Manny Machado’s move to San Diego Hovering above it all is the process of building a roster, which can also depend greatly on a team’s peculiar personnel. Take the example of veteran infielder Wilmer Flores, who signed a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Diamondbacks in January. “We talked to (Ketel) Marte before we signed Wilmer Flores because we knew that signing a second baseman was going to have an impact on our second baseman,” Hazen said. “We needed to make sure Ketel was going to be able to handle center field before we made that move. “He told us he was fully on board with doing whatever. If that conversation goes in a different direction, you might change your strategy in the offseason.” So yes, there are still differences in how each team goes about its offseason business that no single algorithm can account for. Even in 2019. View the full article
  8. TEMPE, Ariz. — Andrelton Simmons believes he’s ready to take his offensive game to the next level. The Angels Gold Glove shortstop is best known for his defense, although his hitting has improved significantly over the past few years. Now, though, he said he’s finished a winter of adding strength that he hopes will show up in the numbers. “More doubles, triples, homers,” Simmons said. “More exit velo maybe.” Simmons hit 11 homers in 2018, contributing to a .417 slugging percentage. That was just a tick down from his career best .421 slugging percentage in 2017, when he hit 14 homers. His career high was 17 homers in 2013, his first full season, but his average was only .248 that year. In the past few years, Simmons has improved his batting average — to a career-best .292 last year — and he’s cut down his strikeouts. It seems now Simmons is trying to add a little more power too. That’s why he said last year his goal for the winter was to improve his strength. Although he said there’s not much difference in his weight, he can tell there’s been a change. “I can tell in the weight room,” he said. “I can tell when I hit the ball. It has a little extra jump. I can feel it too. I just know.” Simmons had said that earlier in his career he added bulk and it cost him quickness in the field, so his goal was to avoid that this time. “I’m hoping I don’t lose a step,” he said. “Every year everyone tries to maintain that. Time gets us all, but we work and we do our best to keep that agility and quickness. Hopefully I still have that step.” HARVEY THROWS Matt Harvey threw a bullpen session on Wednesday morning, his first time throwing off the mound since he was briefly shut down with a strained glute. He said everything was “good.” As it turned out, Harvey went just three days without throwing, after the initial estimate was that he’d be out about 10 days. “They just didn’t want to push it too quick and have something even worse happen,” Harvey said. “We made sure it was back in line.” Harvey said he’s just about one bullpen session behind the other starters. He said he expects to have another bullpen session, then throw live batting practice and then be ready for a spring training game. TROPEANO UPDATE Nick Tropeano said he’s been working with pitching coach Doug White on retooling his delivery to take some of the strain off his shoulder. Tropeano missed much of last season with shoulder trouble, and he’s already been slowed this spring with a recurrence of the problem. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress already and it’s not even been two weeks,” Tropeano said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction.” Related Articles Angels look to high-tech gadgets to get the most out of their pitchers Angels’ Justin Upton aims to be ready for Opening Day, not early spring training games Angels owner Arte Moreno addresses team’s payroll, stadium and GM Billy Eppler Mike Trout sidesteps questions about his future as he opens spring training with the Angels Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says rehab going smoothly so far Tropeano said he’s about 2-1/2 weeks from getting on a mound and five or six weeks from being at 100 percent. That would push him just barely past opening day. Tropeano is in a group with Jaime Barría, Felix Peña and Dillon Peters, competing for starting opportunities beyond the top four of Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Trevor Cahill and Harvey. ALSO Shohei Ohtani said he’s still having no issues in his rehab and continues to move toward the next step, which is hitting off a tee. “If everything goes well, I should be getting started soon,” Ohtani said through his interpreter… David Fletcher is getting some work in the outfield this spring. He made a couple emergency appearances in the outfield last season, having never played there before. Manager Brad Ausmus also said they are unsure whether Fletcher would play second or third if he wins an everyday job. Both Fletcher and Zack Cozart can play either position, and the Angels will be determining this spring which alignment is better defensively… Ausmus, on Mike Trout continuing to improve: “Everyone can improve somewhere. Even the best players on the planet can improve. Then they become best-er.” View the full article
  9. Angels pitcher Jake Jewell throws to the plate during a spring training workout on Tuesday in Tempe, Ariz. The Angels are using the Edgertronic high-speed camera system to evaluate their pitchers. The cameras record pitchers in real time, with the ability to give highly detailed looks at the way they hold the ball, the way it comes off their fingers and the way it spins and moves toward the plate. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG) The Angels are using Rapsodo tracking devices, like the one seen here, to collect data on their pitchers during spring training workouts in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG) Sound The gallery will resume inseconds Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs throws in the bullpen as pitching coach Doug White, left, looks on during spring training on Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG) Angels pitcher Williams Jerez throws in the bullpen on Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The Angels are using the Edgertronic high-speed camera system to evaluate their pitchers. The cameras record pitchers in real time, with the ability to give highly detailed looks at the way they hold the ball, the way it comes off their fingers and the way it spins and moves toward the plate. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG) Show Caption of Expand TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyler Skaggs unleashed the pitch and then turned to pitching coach Doug White. “Dougie,” he said. “What was the spin on that curve?” Welcome to Major League Baseball, circa 2019. The Angels, like almost all big league teams, have taken their workouts to a new level technologically this year, with the installation of several digital devices that assist in their evaluations, specifically with pitchers. “It’s cool,” Skaggs said. “It’s definitely a lot of new information that we haven’t had in the past. I think a lot of teams are going in that direction. I think it’s great. Instead of going off the eye test on every pitch, you can get the actual numbers.” The two main devices the Angels have added to the pitching mix this year are Edgertronic high-speed cameras and Rapsodo tracking devices. The cameras are set up on tripods right behind the pitcher. The Angels also have an overhead camera attached to an awning above one of the bullpen mounds on their practice field. They record pitchers in real time, with the ability to give highly detailed looks at the way they hold the ball, the way it comes off their fingers and the way it spins and moves toward the plate. The Rapsodo trackers essentially replicate what the Trackman systems do in ballparks, but on a portable scale. They measure velocity, spin and break. The trackers sit on the ground between the plate and the mound, rising no more than about six inches off the grass. “I love it,” Andrew Heaney said. “I’m excited. Any time you can have a new tool to help give you real solid data, I don’t think there’s any reason we would turn that down.” Much of the data produced by these units was available previously, but not as easily accessible in real time. Now, a pitcher can throw a pitch and then turn to one of the assistants holding a laptop behind the mound to find out the exact parameters of the pitch he just threw. Or he can see the video of the way the ball came off his fingers. “Old school, a coach would stand back and say ‘That looked good, how did it feel?’ ” Heaney said. “Saying something looked good doesn’t make it any better or make it any less hittable. If you have a machine that can tell you the spin efficiency and the (revolutions per minute) and depth on a breaking ball when you hold it with two fingers, now you actually have data that tells you what makes it a better breaking ball.” The new tools allow pitchers to also see the axis of their spin on their pitches, which can make a difference. Two pitches with the exact same spin rate can react differently depending on the angle of the spin, and the angle of the spin in relation to the seams. “I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ve only scratched the surface,” Heaney sad. “I’ve barely gotten to the smallest level of what we are able to do with the equipment and technology now.” Translating the technology into information that pitchers can implement is going to be where teams can find a competitive advantage because almost all of the teams now use the technology. The Angels are one of 28 teams now using the Rapsodo devices, according to the company. They are also used by many top college baseball programs. Related Articles Inside the Dodgers: A closer look at a key detail of Manny Machado’s move to San Diego Angels’ Justin Upton aims to be ready for Opening Day, not early spring training games Angels owner Arte Moreno addresses team’s payroll, stadium and GM Billy Eppler Mike Trout sidesteps questions about his future as he opens spring training with the Angels Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says rehab going smoothly so far “What it does is give you instant feedback on what you’re trying to correct,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “If you’re a pitcher, it tracks your hand. You feel what you threw or how it felt when you threw, and you can look at the Edgertronic and see what it looks like. Is that what you want? Not quite. Do it again. Basically, eventually you get to the point where you feel it and look at it, and that’s right. Now you try to repeat that. It’s instant feedback. That’s what a lot of the guys like.” Because the devices are so portable, the Angels will continue to use them for bullpen sessions during the season, at home and on the road. Exactly how they use it will continue to evolve, though. “We need to throw more bullpens so we can kind of get a feel for what kind of numbers work for you and what doesn’t,” Skaggs said. “I think we’re in that process of deciding what to use and what not to use. We’re going to use everything and kind of narrow it down to what you feel is necessary.” View the full article
  10. TEMPE, Ariz. — Justin Upton is in no hurry to get on the field in spring training, as he lets tendinitis in his knee calm down. Upton said he suffered the injury running in the offseason, and now he plans to “take it slow.” He said he isn’t expecting to be playing spring training games in the early part of the Cactus League schedule, but he doesn’t anticipate any problem being ready for opening day. “It won’t be a problem,” Upton said on Tuesday. “You’ll see me before we get to California. I’ll definitely be in some spring training games and I’ll be ready to go.” Upton said he’s been hitting off a tee and throwing, while waiting for his knee to allow him full mobility. ALSO On Wednesday Matt Harvey is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session since going down with a strained glute on the first official days of workouts, last week. … Jo Adell, the Angels’ top prospect, hit in a group with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols on Tuesday. Related Articles Angels owner Arte Moreno addresses team’s payroll, stadium and GM Billy Eppler Mike Trout sidesteps questions about his future as he opens spring training with the Angels Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says rehab going smoothly so far Angels’ Albert Pujols looks for bounceback season after two more surgeries Ex-Angels teammates pick each others brains as college coaches View the full article
  11. TEMPE, Ariz. — The Angels have a formula for determining their payroll and it has nothing to do with the luxury tax, contrary to the popular narrative. Owner Arte Moreno said Monday that the Angels base their budget on their revenue. “Typically for us, we allocate about 50 percent of our revenue towards payroll, but I bust through that every year,” Moreno said. “A small-market team would go about the same. Sometimes the larger market teams would only use 40 percent. Every year is a little different with your needs.” The Angels currently have a payroll that’s roughly at $183 million, in terms of actual cash flow for 2019. That includes several incentives that are likely to be reached. It represents a slight increase from their payroll in 2018. General manager Billy Eppler said last month the Angels “stretched” the payroll to add Cody Allen. The luxury tax, however, is calculated using the average annual values of the contracts. Because the Angels have a few players whose actual salaries are much higher than their AAV’s, their payroll for purposes of the luxury tax is about $170 million, well below the $206 million threshold. Moreno said the Angels also want to save some money for additions during the season, “if we have an injury” or “if we are really in it at the All-Star break and are looking to see whether you’re going to trade.” Moreno also said he’s been pleased with the work of general manager Billy Eppler, whose contract runs through 2019, with an option for 2020. “Billy has done a good job,” Moreno said. “His people have done a great job.” Related Articles Mike Trout sidesteps questions about his future as he opens spring training with the Angels Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says rehab going smoothly so far Angels’ Albert Pujols looks for bounceback season after two more sugeries Ex-Angels teammates pick each others brains as college coaches Angels end a cold free-agent winter for Dan Jennings Moreno also addressed the situation with the city of Anaheim and Angel Stadium. The Angels’ lease runs only through 2020, and the team would like the city to make some upgrades to the ballpark before they commit beyond that. Moreno said the talks with new Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu have been “very positive, a lot of good communication.” In past years, Moreno had not spoken as optimistically about the team’s relationship with the city. UPTON OUT, HARVEY IN Outfielder Justin Upton begins spring training limited by tendinitis in his right knee, Manager Brad Ausmus said. “There’s no reason to rush him right now,” Ausmus said. “Don’t be shocked if he’s not playing right away.” Pitcher Matt Harvey, who suffered a strained glute during the first workout last week, has resumed throwing a few days ahead of schedule. Although Harvey isn’t ready to get back on the mound, he’s been “fully cleared,” Ausmus said. View the full article
  12. TEMPE, Ariz. >> As he begins what could be his penultimate spring training with the Angels, Mike Trout avoided the elephant in the room. Trout, whose contract expires after the 2020 season, would not directly answer questions on Monday about whether extension talks have begun or whether he wants to remain with the Angels beyond next season. “I don’t want to comment on that,” Trout said. “Like I said, I enjoy playing here. I’m having fun. Obviously, losing is not fun, but I enjoy playing this game. I leave it out on the field every night, every day and I go from there.” Owner Arte Moreno, who spoke to the media a few hours later while the team was conducting its first full-squad workout of the spring, also refused to say whether any negotiations have occurred. “I would probably say that we’ve been in (internal) discussions,” Moreno said. “One of the last interviews I gave I said it’s not in the back of our mind, it’s in the front of our mind. “I think it also depends on the agent and the player. So it’s not like it’s just us. We try to keep in communication with how the agent is feeling and how the player is feeling about where they are.” The general belief around the club and within the industry is that the Angels will be willing to do whatever it takes financially to keep Trout, 27. He has two years left on a six-year, $145-million contract. He’ll make $34 million each of the next two seasons. His next contract will certainly be a record-breaker. Earlier this winter a source said Trout camp was waiting to see the deals that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado signed before opening any sort of formal negotiations. They are still unsigned, a point that has upset many players, including Trout. “It’s obviously not good for baseball,” he said. “You’ve got two of the top guys not signed yet. Teams are saying they want to rebuild, but why not start with one of the top guys?… It’s disappointing for the players.” Money aside, Trout is certainly going to get paid by whatever team he chooses, so it will be a matter of where he wants to play. A native of New Jersey, Trout still spends his winters on the East Coast. He grew up cheering for the Philadelphia Phillies and still loves the Eagles. “I don’t think I went a day this offseason without someone asking ‘Hey, when are you coming to Philly?’” Trout said. “I can’t predict the future.” Trout has said repeatedly that the most important factor to him is winning. The Angels, as has been well chronicled, have made the postseason just once in Trout’s seven seasons, a three-game cameo in 2014. They are coming off three straight losing seasons, although they were just two games under .500 in each of the past two seasons. Trout isn’t tipping his hand as to what he wants to do in 2021 and beyond, but he said on Monday that he believes in the direction the team is headed for 2019 and the immediate future. General manager Billy Eppler didn’t make any splashy move over the winter, but he did retool the roster enough that there could be 10 or 11 new faces on the opening day roster. “Each year since Billy’s been here, he’s been bringing in guys that improve the team,” Trout said. “That’s all you can ask for. Obviously, we weren’t where we wanted to be the last few years, but it’s like a puzzle, trying to bring in guys that fit this team. We’ve brought a bunch of veteran guys in, and we’ll see where it goes. I come here, and I can only do what I can do. But bringing in new faces, it’s good.” Trout also said he thinks the injuries have been the team’s biggest problem in recent years. “I think we lost something like five starters last year or something crazy,” Trout said. “That doesn’t help. When we get knocked down, we just have got to try to get back up as quick as we can.” He added: “If we can figure out a way to stay healthy, we can make a push.” Trout has been injured each of the past two seasons, missing seven weeks with a torn thumb ligament in 2017 and a couple weeks with a right wrist injury in 2018. In 2017 he was hurt on a head-first slide, so he started wearing a protective glove when he’s on the bases. Trout said he does what he can to avoid injury, but he can’t play the game cautiously. Related Articles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says rehab going smoothly so far Angels’ Albert Pujols looks for bounceback season after two more sugeries Ex-Angels teammates pick each others brains as college coaches Angels end a cold free-agent winter for Dan Jennings Angels pick up veteran lefty reliever Dan Jennings “If you play the game hard, you are going to dive, you are going to hurt yourself,” Trout said. “If you hold back and try to prevent it, that’s when you get hurt.” The Angels obviously want Trout on the field as much as possible, because he remains unquestionably the best player in the game. He’s not only put up historic numbers in his first seven seasons, winning two MVPs and finishing second four times, but he’s improved. Last year he specifically mentioned wanting to improve his defense. According to most defensive metrics, he made a dramatic improvement. He was a finalist for the Gold Glove, an award he’s never won. This year Trout did not have any specific areas for improvement in mind. “Just to be more consistent,” he said. “There is no one thing. Just try to get better at everything.” View the full article
  13. TEMPE, Ariz. >> Although Shohei Ohtani isn’t expected to be able to play until May, a guy can dream. “As a baseball player, I would like to make it on opening day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter on Sunday morning. “That’s the thought, but I’m not going to rush myself.” Ohtani, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, would obviously like to beat the projected timeline that has him returning sometime in May. Ohtani has been taking swings at about 75 percent effort so far, but he has not hit a ball yet. He said he’s hoping he can begin hitting off a tee within a week. “So far things are going as planned,” Ohtani said. “No problems at all. But maybe once I start throwing, maybe I’ll start having some issues. But as of now, everything has been going well.” Ohtani said he might begin throwing by the end of spring training. When Ohtani starts throwing, that will slow his rehab as a hitter, because the Angels don’t want to introduce multiple new elements to his rehab at the same time. View the full article
  14. TEMPE, Ariz. — As is his custom, Albert Pujols answers questions about his future by referring to his past. The day before the first full-squad workout of Pujols’ 19th season in the majors, he was asked if he feels the need to prove to anyone that he can again approach the lofty heights he reached earlier in his Hall of Fame career. “I don’t need to show anybody, man,” Pujols said on Sunday morning in the Angels clubhouse. “My job is to just try to be healthy and help this ballclub to win a championship. I don’t think I need to show anybody. I know what I can do when I’m healthy, and that’s what I try to do.” Pujols, 39, enters this season after a pair of surgeries, arthroscopic procedures on his left knee in August and his right elbow in September. Pujols has had a total of five surgeries since joining the Angels, including a knee procedure in October 2012, and foot surgeries in November 2015 and December 2016. He said he was happy the most recent ones occurred earlier in the calendar, allowing for a mostly normal offseason afterward. “I’m really excited with where I’m at right now,” Pujols said. How that manifests itself on the field remains to be seen. In 117 games last year, Pujols hit .245 with 19 homers and a .700 OPS. It was actually a slight improvement from his numbers (.241 and .672) the year before. Pujols also played 70 games at first base last year, making room for Shohei Ohtani at designated hitter. It was twice as many as he’d played in the previous two years combined. This season, the Angels are going to have Pujols start the season at DH, with Justin Bour at first, while they wait for Ohtani to return. Ohtani is expected by sometime in May. After that, if all three players are healthy, manager Brad Ausmus will have to juggle the playing time. Ausmus has said repeatedly that performance will dictate who plays. They’ll get an idea of Pujols’ health and performance level gradually, working him slowly through spring training. “The most important thing in spring training is making sure he’s healthy going into the season,” Ausmus said. “We certainly don’t want to overload him here and have an issue in April or May. That’s the game plan. It’s going to evolve as we go, but we’re going to be cautious out of the gate.” Pujols said he’s not worried about how much he plays in spring training, as long as he’s ready by opening day. He said he knows how to get ready, and has not made any significant adjustments to his routine. Related Articles Ex-Angels teammates pick each others brains as college coaches Angels end a cold free-agent winter for Dan Jennings Angels pick up veteran lefty reliever Dan Jennings Could the Angels still sign Mike Moustakas? Griffin Canning soaking up atmosphere of his first big league camp with Angels “You adjust here and there but I always say, ‘Why would you fix something that isn’t broken?’” he said. “It’s been successful for me for more than 20 years as a professional. So I think if you’re healthy you don’t need to change anything. For me, it’s been the same training. Maybe I adjusted the volume of the work, but it’s the same intensity and same routine since Day One.” As usual, Pujols said his focus is on winning a championship, and he believes the Angels actually have the pieces in place for that, if they can stay healthy. “I think with everyone in here now, this is my eighth year, and every year we have a really quality, championship ballclub,” Pujols said. “The thing is, the injuries that you get during the season and there’s guys that you’re depending on. When you lose last year half of your starting pitchers for the rest of the year, it’s really tough. It’s hard to compete like that. God willing, if we stay healthy I think we have a really good team right here to get back in that position that we want.” View the full article
  15. UC Riverside head coach Troy Percival and Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad meet at home plate before the start of their non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside head coach Troy Percival talks with pitcher Riley Ohl, (#51), during Saturday’s non-conference game against Nebraska at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) Sound The gallery will resume inseconds Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad, watches from the dugout during Saturday’s non-conference game against UC Riverside at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Riley Ohl, (#51), delivers a pitch in the first inning to Nebraska’s Spencer Schwellenbach, (#1), during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Damien Sanchez,(#1), misses the ball as Nebraska’s Spencer Schwellenbach, (#1), slides into second base safely during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) Nebraska’s Angelo Altavilla, (#7), turns a double play as UC Riverside’s Alec Arnone, (#7), during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Nick Kafer,(#18), reaches for a fly ball against Nebraska during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Cole Pofek, (#23), rounds second base as Nebraska’s, Cam Chick,(#29), mishandles a ground ball during Saturdays non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Cole Pofek, (#23), slides home safely in the first inning against Nebraska during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Travis Bohall,(#30), slides safely into home during Saturday’s non-conference game against Nebraska at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) Nebraska’s Spencer Schwellenbach, (#1), catches UC Riverside’s Dylan Orick,(#35), during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) UC Riverside’s Dean Miller, (#20), bats against Nebraska during Saturday’s non-conference game at University of California Riverside in Riverside, Ca., February 16, 2019. (John Valenzuela/ Contributing Photographer) Show Caption of Expand RIVERSIDE – The dozens of card games, hundreds of lunches and road trips all over the continent, the thousands of hours of conversations on every element of the game of baseball when they were Los Angeles Angels teammates and this is what Troy Percival remembers the most about Darin Erstad. And no, it wasn’t the obvious connection you’d think. It wasn’t Erstad putting away Kenny Lofton’s fly ball – one induced by Percival on the mound – for the final out of the 2002 World Series. “I remember I came into a game to get a courtesy inning,” Percival said. “He had just come off a concussion and made a diving play that gave him another concussion. So I go to the hospital to see him and ask him, ‘What are you doing? That game was over.’ He goes, ‘No. The ball is never falling.’ “I’ve never forgotten that. Especially when you’re on the mound, the ball is never falling. That’s just who he is. It’s fun to watch what he turns his teams into. They follow a good leader.” Erstad’s Nebraska Cornhuskers followed their leader into Riverside this weekend for a four-game series with Percival’s UC Riverside Highlanders. It’s the third season in a row the two former Angels teammates have started their collegiate seasons playing each other by coaching their respective alma maters, but the first time they’ve brought the series to the Riverside Sports Complex, where Percival’s retired No. 40 features prominent on the center-field wall. The previous two seasons, the teams met at the Angels’ spring-training complex in Mesa, Ariz., splitting four games.Related Articles Bennie Boatwright sets USC men’s basketball record for 3s in win over Cal Sharma’s double-double helps Stanford beat UCLA men’s basketball Cal State Fullerton’s defense stymies CSUN in Big West Conference win Short-handed Long Beach can’t hold off UC Davis down the stretch Kyla Ross, Katelyn Ohashi’s perfect 10s lead UCLA gymnastics to season high Nebraska captured Friday night’s game, 21-6. The teams split Saturday’s doubleheader, with UCR winning the opener, 10-9, behind three hits from freshman Alec Arnone and two hits and two RBI from freshman Damian Sanchez, and Nebraska taking the nightcap, 10-6. Putting aside the ebb and flow of a long college baseball season, nothing has ebbed in the flow of the relationship between Percival and Erstad that began when Erstad joined the Angels in 1996 and lasted through and beyond the ends of their professional careers in 2009. The two built a friendship that surprised no one who knows them and their intense, focused personalities, having regular lunches, working out together and asking questions of each other about their respective disciplines. “I respect him probably more than anyone in the world,” Erstad said. “We’re on the phone a lot anyway. Both of us being head coaches, you deal with issues with teams and you’re trying to learn from everyone and what different people are going through. He’s obviously got a huge pitching background, so I’ve always picked his mind about it.” Percival hasn’t been shy about doing the same, especially since seeing what Erstad has turned the Cornhuskers into since taking the job at his alma mater in 2012. The former Angels center fielder entered his eighth season winning 58 percent of his games, along with a Big Ten title and three trips to the NCAA Regionals. “As soon as I got the job here, I called him and started getting advice, because this is not an easy job to do if you were never an assistant,” Percival said. “I picked his brain pretty much four, five times a week. I was calling him asking questions like ‘How do you start the program? How do you get your influence into the team?’ Just everything top to bottom and he was always there to answer the call.” Erstad answered the call during the offseason, when Percival called to inquire about – naturally – getting hitting philosophy from a player who, in 2000, hit .355 with 240 hits. Erstad told his former teammate about a book called “High Scoring Baseball” that Percival and his coaches devoured and incorporated this season in an effort to go next-level offensively. That book stresses situational hitting, execution and putting the ball in play. In otherwords, Erstad and Percival have come full circle when it comes to making the ball fall. View the full article