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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Angels should be a bit more worried

Club seems to take a cavalier attitude about, among other things, finding pitchers to replace those on the disabled list.

April 22, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

You don't need a scorecard to discover what ails the Angels. Just walk through the front gate of Angel Stadium and into the main concourse, where the Angels have wrapped pillars with larger-than-life portraits of their best players.

There's Vladimir Guerrero, right in front of you. He's on the disabled list.

Take two steps to the right, and there's John Lackey. He's on the disabled list too.

Take two more steps, and there's Ervin Santana. Disabled list.

It's tough enough to win when you lose your best hitter and your two best pitchers, tougher still when you have eight active pitchers wearing uniform numbers higher than 50.

Yet, the Angels appear intent on making their challenge even tougher.

They desperately need power, but they won't play Brandon Wood. Their bullpen is in tatters because they have replaced four starters on the disabled list with what should be their corps of middle relievers, but they aren't aggressively pursuing any of the available free-agent starters.

"We don't believe we've exhausted our in-house options," General Manager Tony Reagins said.

The Angels have long prided themselves on minimizing the use of journeymen fillers in triple A, but four of their five triple-A starters qualify as journeymen fillers. You'll see one of them this week in Anaheim, maybe two.

By the end of the week, the Angels will have used eight starters, with five months to go. In the Angels' five playoff seasons under Manager Mike Scioscia, they never have used more than eight starters.

The Angels' bullpen began play Tuesday with an 8.31 earned-run average, the highest in the major leagues. The relievers include four rookies, two in their first week in the majors.

"There's certainly some names on our depth chart right now that are not ready for what they might be asked to do," Scioscia said. "There are going to be some challenges for some guys."

The Angels are using duct tape three out of every five days, awaiting the return of Lackey, Santana and Kelvim Escobar from the disabled list. At that point, with that trio joining Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver, the Angels say they could have the best rotation in the league.

That might be. For now, the San Diego Padres have a better rotation -- Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Shawn Hill, Josh Geer and Kevin Correia for the Padres; Saunders, Weaver, Shane Loux and two mystery guests for the Angels.

It's not wise for the Angels to count on Lackey, Santana and Escobar all coming back and pitching effectively. They need a free agent, as insurance if nothing else.

Mark Mulder is working out and, according to agent Gregg Clifton, could sign in one week and throw 100 pitches in a major league game in another two weeks. The Dodgers, with one starter on the disabled list, are among the "six to eight" teams interested, Clifton said.

And how much contact has Clifton had with the Angels about Mulder?

"Literally none," Clifton said.

Pedro Martinez is out there too, and Paul Byrd, and Odalis Perez. Reagins said he has done some "fact finding" on free-agent pitchers but has extended no offers, and he said the Angels would scout the independent leagues as well.

The Atlantic League opens Thursday, with John Halama and Brad Halsey among the former major league starters pitching there.

Perhaps the Angels can find a fifth starter in an independent league. They won't find a power hitter there, which makes the decision not to play Wood all the more baffling.

The Angels' coaching staff agreed in spring training that Wood was ready for the majors, but the starting lineup had no vacancies. So Wood, the Angels' top prospect, returned to triple A for the third consecutive spring and hit four home runs in 22 at-bats.

They recalled him Tuesday, as the Angels started play ranking next-to-last in the league in runs and home runs. Scioscia didn't start Wood and wouldn't commit to playing him.

"If you're going to pull the plug on some of the things we're looking at after 12 games, I think it's a little premature," Scioscia said.

Yet, now there is a vacancy, and a glaring one at that: Guerrero is expected to sit out six to eight weeks, so the Angels should give Wood 150 at-bats at designated hitter and see if his power translates to the majors. The Angels have nine home runs; Torii Hunter has five.

Maicer Izturis, with no extra-base hits, batted third Tuesday as the designated hitter. Wood sat and watched, almost inevitably headed back to triple A when the Angels summon minor league pitchers to start Thursday and Saturday.

"How do you know he's not pitching for us Thursday or Saturday?" Scioscia said.

He was kidding. We think.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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