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Vladimir Guerrero's knee feels better

Outfielder is excited about the season, but he will take it slow in spring training after surgery.

February 18, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Vladimir Guerrero won't predict a return to his explosive days of yore, when he hit 34 home runs and stole 37 bases in 2001 and had 39 homers and 40 stolen bases in 2002 for the Montreal Expos.

But the Angels slugger, who arrived in camp and took batting practice Tuesday, is clearly excited about playing this season on a healthy right knee, which bothered him for years and forced him to undergo surgery in November to clean out scar tissue and debris.

"I'm looking forward to it," Guerrero said through an interpreter.

"Everything feels so good, everything is clean now, but I don't want to predict any numbers for stolen bases or say how I'm going to run in the outfield. I prefer to wait."

Those eager to see how the 33-year-old right fielder responds to surgery will have to wait, as well.

Guerrero, entering the final year of a six-year, $85-million contract, appears to be in excellent shape, but he just started jogging. Manager Mike Scioscia said he won't play in exhibition games until mid-March.

"Vlad is going to take it extremely slow," Scioscia said. "We want to get him running so we can evaluate him. There are some hurdles he'll have to clear -- turning on the bases, sliding. If he plays 10 [exhibition] games, that's plenty."

Guerrero, who hit .303 with 27 homers and 91 runs batted in last season but was relegated to designated hitter -- often because of his balky knee -- in 44 of 143 games, is on board with the timeline.

"I'm OK with that plan," he said. "To me, the priority is to get the knee strong and get it in shape. I'm not even worried about at-bats right now, I'm worried about taking care of my knee."

Let's make a deal

The Angels signed Ervin Santana to a four-year, $30-million contract Saturday. On deck in the long-term deal lineup: ace John Lackey.

Though the Angels did not hold substantive talks with Lackey this winter, a source familiar with the team's thinking but not authorized to speak publicly said General Manager Tony Reagins plans to contact Lackey's agent, Steve Hilliard, to initiate negotiations soon.

"It's something I'd rather do before the season started," Lackey said.

Lackey's three-year, $17.01-million contract expired after 2008, and the Angels picked up his $9-million option for 2009.

If Lackey, 29, who went 12-5 with a 3.75 earned-run average last season and 19-9 with an American League-low 3.01 ERA in 2007, has another strong season and becomes a free agent, he could command an A.J. Burnett-type deal (five years, $82.5 million).

Lackey said he would be receptive to re-signing with the Angels, but the prospect of free agency is also alluring.

"A lot of guys who worked hard for us to have that right," Lackey said. "A lot of guys would like to check it out at least once."

Short hops

Juan Rivera, who missed most of 2007 because of a broken leg, has bowed out of the World Baseball Classic. Rivera, who was scheduled to play for Venezuela, hit .246 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 89 games last season. "His leg is fine, he's not hurt," Scioscia said. "He just wants to be here for a full spring to get ready for the season." . . . Kelvim Escobar, who appears ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery, expects to move from long toss to throwing vigorously off flat ground from 60 feet this week.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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