Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Two pitchers who might well decide the fortunes of the Angels' rotation and bullpen this season reported to spring training Wednesday in good spirits and, apparently, in good health.
Ervin Santana, who struggled for most of 2009 because of an elbow sprain that sapped him of his normal velocity and command, said his arm feels "very, very good" after skipping winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.
And veteran reliever Scot Shields arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium with his usual beginning-of-camp gusto, the left-knee surgery that sidelined the right-hander for most of 2009 barely registering a blip on his radar.
"If the season started today," Shields said, "I'd be ready."
The Angels, of course, will bring Shields along slowly after the 34-year-old had the patella tendon in his landing knee repaired on June 16.
One of baseball's most durable and dependable relievers from 2004 to 2008, Shields went 1-3 with a 6.62 earned-run average in April and May before the pain in his knee became unbearable.
"We'll hold him back from throwing on the mound until he really needs to," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We want his leg to get into a routine before we test it, but all indications are that he feels great. There's nothing that says he won't be ready for the season."
A sound Shields, who has been playing catch for a month, would be a huge boost to a bullpen that features veterans Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney and youngsters Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger, who are coming off breakout 2009 seasons.
"It's not often you get quality and quantity in a bullpen, and I think we have both," Shields said. "We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things and throw the ball well."
Santana threw the ball extremely well in 2008, going 16-7 with a 3.49 earned-run average and emerging as a potential staff ace.
But after signing a four-year, $30-million deal last spring, he missed the first six weeks of 2009 because of the elbow sprain and was slowed for most of the season by the injury, going 8-8 with a 5.10 ERA in 23 games.
The right-hander finished strong, though, going 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA over the final two months.
The Angels have a solid five-man rotation, which includes Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro, but with ace John Lackey signing with Boston this winter, they have no dominant, No. 1-type starter.
Santana, 27, has the potential to lead a rotation. When sound, he mixes a 96-mph fastball with a sharp curve and changeup.
"I think I can, no question," Santana said, when asked if he could regain his 2008 form. "I know I'm a good pitcher. My only problem last year was injuries. It happens."
Santana has used winter ball as a tuneup for spring training for years, but he opted for strength training, catch and a few bullpen sessions this off-season. He will be on a regular schedule this spring, meaning he will throw off a mound early in camp.
"It was my choice -- I wanted to rest my arm," Santana said. "I want to get back to being healthy, and right now, I feel great."
Scioscia said finding offensive chemistry, especially at the top of the order where the Angels must replace Chone Figgins, resolving defensive issues -- can designated hitter Hideki Matsui play the outfield? Will Maicer Izturis or Brandon Wood emerge as a starting third baseman? -- and building relationships between the catchers and several new pitchers are his top priorities this spring.
"We have a lot on our plate," Scioscia said, "but we really feel the final product is going to be a deep offensive team, a good defensive team and an outstanding pitching staff."