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Napoli could open as designated hitter

February 16, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — It's not an ideal scenario, not with the way the Angels' roster is constructed, but if Mike Napoli continues his power surge this spring but is not ready to start the season behind the plate, Manager Mike Scioscia would consider using the catcher as a designated hitter.

"As we move forward, we'll see if he's going to help us, and if there are at-bats for him, that's something we wouldn't rule out," Scioscia said. "But our goal is for him to catch. It's the second day of spring training. We don't have to have our lineup now."

Like last season, Scioscia's plan entering 2009 is to rotate four of his top hitters -- Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera -- through the three outfield positions and at designated hitter.

With Napoli, who hit 20 home runs in 78 games last season, an average of one homer every 11.35 at-bats, behind the plate, the lineup is deeper and more potent.

But Napoli felt "an impingement" in his shoulder after undergoing surgery to clean up his labrum and rotator cuff in late October and will be held out of rigorous throwing drills for several weeks. The shoulder doesn't bother him when he hits.

Napoli, who expects to begin throwing in a week to 10 days, and Scioscia acknowledge there is a chance Napoli won't be ready to catch by the April 6 season opener.

"We're going to err on the side of caution if he needs to be held back a bit," Scioscia said. "He'll be ready when he's ready. There's no calendar, no schedule, you can't look at April 6 and say you have to be ready by then. You're going to go through all the [throwing] progressions, and when you're ready, you're ready."

Scioscia said if it appeared Napoli would DH only once or twice a week, he would prefer the 26-year-old focus on his rehabilitation and remain on the disabled list.

If Napoli hits well enough to force his way into the lineup as a DH, the Angels would have to carry three catchers, something they have not done for several years.

If Napoli were to DH, that would take at-bats away from Rivera and Abreu and mean the lesser-hitting Jeff Mathis would handle the bulk of the catching duties. An injury to an outfielder could also open up the DH spot for Napoli.

"If there's a spot Mike carves out and he's the best option [to DH], we're certainly not going to rule him out, but we have some guys who can swing the bat, and we want to see what they can do early in the year," Scioscia said. "This might be one of the first springs where we've talked about having too many bats."

Taking the fifth

The only real competition in camp is for the fifth rotation spot, which Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart, Shane Loux and Anthony Ortega will vie for.

Moseley's experience as a big league swingman -- he has started and relieved -- gives him an edge. Adenhart is a top prospect who gave up 12 earned runs in 12 innings of three major league starts last season and struggled with his command at triple A.

Loux had a 2.81 earned-run average in 16 relief innings in August and September after having a 12-6 record with a 3.98 ERA in 22 triple-A starts. Ortega emerged as a top prospect after a 5-0 record with a 2.52 ERA in six triple-A starts and a 9-7 mark with a 3.73 ERA in 22 double-A starts.

"Our evaluation won't just be on numbers," Scioscia said. "Is he executing pitches? How's his stuff playing? What's his poise like? Do you think he can handle challenges? It's not outrageous to consider a young guy with no major league experience to break camp with you. It's happened before."

Well-armed

The rave reviews continue to pour in for right-hander Kelvim Escobar, who is ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery that was supposed to sideline him until the All-Star break.

"He's throwing bullets for 10 minutes from 180 feet," pitching coach Mike Butcher said.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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