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ANGELS SPRING REPORT

Bud Selig says he's concerned about the economy

Commissioner acknowledges he wonders how the downturn will affect baseball and says his office has advised teams to prepare.

March 15, 2009|Bill Shaikin

MESA, ARIZ. — With opening day approaching and the economic crisis deepening, Commissioner Bud Selig says he is increasingly concerned about how significantly baseball might be affected.

"I used to think we were recession-proof. I really did," Selig said during the Angels' 6-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

"This is different. Some economists are saying it's the worst downturn since the Great Depression."

The commissioner's office has advised clubs to plan for three scenarios -- attendance even with last season, a 10% drop in attendance and a 20% drop.

The Angels and Cubs played to a sellout crowd Saturday. However, Cactus League attendance was down 22% over the first 11 days this spring, USA Today reported.

Selig declined to discuss internal attendance projections. Major League Baseball clubs sold 79.5 million tickets in 2007 and 78.6 million in 2008, the two highest totals in league history.

"Every other phase of the economy has been touched, including other sports," Selig said. "I'll just have to watch it."

Santana update

Although Ervin Santana has a partially torn ligament within his right elbow, he could complete this season -- and his career -- without requiring reconstructive surgery, Angels medical director Lewis Yocum said.

Santana signed a four-year, $30-million contract in February. He complained of elbow discomfort after his first spring outing 11 days ago, after which the ligament injury was diagnosed. On Saturday, Yocum cleared Santana to begin a throwing program.

The injury is not uncommon among pitchers, and tears can be repaired with the procedure popularly known as Tommy John surgery. However, Yocum said, Santana might well be able to pitch effectively after rest and rehabilitation. The Angels hope he can return within the first month of the season.

"There are a number of examples of guys who have an abnormal MRI and are still playing and doing well," Yocum said. "It does not necessarily mean he will have to have Tommy John surgery."

Saunders swings

The Angels don't want their pitchers hitting -- or even swinging -- in spring training: Keep bat on shoulder, do not risk injury.

But Joe Saunders stepped up with two out and a runner on third base, so he double-checked with Manager Mike Scioscia.

"He said, 'OK, just slap at it,' " Saunders said.

And Saunders did, driving in the Angels' first run on an opposite-field single, a hit he said was his first in 11 years.

"Beautiful thing," Scioscia said.

Saunders also pitched four shutout innings, with no trace of the shoulder discomfort that nagged him earlier this spring. His spring earned-run average is 1.29.

"The shoulder is a million times better," he said. "No soreness."

Short hops

The Angels' 12-3 record is the best in the major leagues. . . . Brandon Wood played shortstop for the first time this spring, but Scioscia said that is not a sign the Angels are evaluating him there to decide whether to keep their top prospect in Anaheim as a backup infielder. "There's no need to evaluate him," Scioscia said. "We know he can play there." Wood, who had played third base all spring, raised his Cactus League batting average to .400. . . . Closer Brian Fuentes, who recently had back stiffness, pitched one scoreless inning, his first appearance in 10 days. . . . Infielder Matt Brown put the Angels ahead for good with a three-run double in the seventh inning; Brown leads the team with nine runs batted in. . . . Yocum cleared outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. for game action. Matthews, coming off knee surgery, is expected to make his Cactus League debut today.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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