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Angels' Erick Aybar starts camp looking to future

The shortstop admits 'it took some time' to get over his last at-bat in Game 4 of the American League division series against the Red Sox but is ready to tackle his second big league season.

February 21, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — There were no nightmares, no endless replays in his head of the Manny Delcarmen fastball that missed his bat on that fateful suicide-squeeze attempt in Fenway Park last October.

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar reported to camp Friday with a clear conscience, determined not to let his ninth-inning miscue in Game 4 of the American League division series against the Boston Red Sox mar his second full season in the big leagues.

"It took some time to get over it -- that always happens when you're trying to do your job and you don't accomplish it," Aybar said through an interpreter. "It does stay with you for a bit. But I also understand that it was just one at-bat, it's in the past, and the only thing I can do now is keep working hard to get the job done. It's a new year. I'm concentrating on the right things."

The Angels and Red Sox were tied, 2-2, when Aybar came to the plate with Reggie Willits on third and one out.

With a 2-and-0 count and the Angels perhaps on the verge of a win that would send the series back to Anaheim for a decisive Game 5, Manager Mike Scioscia called for a squeeze play.

Aybar, whose 12th-inning, run-scoring single the night before had given the Angels a 5-4 Game 3 win that staved off elimination, whiffed on a nasty, high-and-tight fastball, and Willits was tagged out in a rundown.

The Angels lost the game -- and series -- in the bottom of the ninth.

"Things happen in a player's career that are not always positive, and the only way to achieve in this game is to handle the downsides," Scioscia said. "You're going to make more outs than you will get hits. Some plays aren't going to get made. You have to handle that, and he's got a good makeup. Erick will be fine."

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Busy winter

Aybar, a slick-fielding shortstop, played 66 winter-league games in his native Dominican Republic, batting .343 with 45 runs batted in and 48 runs.

Hits were not his only goal, though. After drawing 14 walks in 346 at-bats in 2008, Aybar, who usually bats ninth, tried to become more selective and focus on his short game in winter ball.

"I worked hard on taking my walks, bunting in different situations, a little bit of everything," Aybar said. "I think I accomplished what I needed to accomplish."

Aybar, 25, hit .277 with three homers, 18 doubles, 39 RBIs and 53 runs in 98 games last season. Scioscia said he should be judged on his entire body of work, not his last at-bat.

"Erick had a huge impact on our season last year," Scioscia said. "Before he got hurt at Toronto [in late May] there wasn't a shortstop playing better defense. He had his first real run at playing in the major leagues and handled himself very well. That's what we're counting on, moving forward."

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Full strength

Maicer Izturis, who will push Aybar for the starting shortstop job or serve as a utility infielder, reported Friday after suffering a season-ending left thumb injury while diving for a grounder last August.

The switch-hitter, who underwent surgery to reattach a torn ligament, played 18 regular-season games in the Venezuelan winter league, batting .340 with a .397 on-base percentage and 10 RBIs.

"I dived, like, three times and had no problems," said Izturis, who hit .269 with 37 RBIs in 79 games last season. "I feel 100%."

Izturis has been a consistent contributor when sound but has been slowed in recent seasons by hamstring injuries. He's not as flashy defensively as Aybar but is slightly better offensively.

"If somebody steps up and wins the job, they're going to play every day," Scioscia said. "If it becomes a situation where both guys are going to be productive and contribute, we'll look at both.

"Izzy also brings a special ability to play three positions. I'm not going to say he's not going to play shortstop every day, but we're going to use his versatility."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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