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Angels' Maicer Izturis hopes to go the distance

Infielder has been hampered by injuries in previous seasons and the club is looking for more durability from the versatile veteran this season.

March 21, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis dives back to first base on a pickoff attempt by Royals pitcher Zack Greinke.
Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis dives back to first base on a pickoff… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz.

Maicer Izturis will never be confused with Cal Ripken Jr. when it comes to durability, but the Angels don't need the switch-hitting infielder to be an ironman.

"If he plays 90 to 110 games, you have a very good player," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If he gets there, we'll be happy."

Ripken, the former Baltimore Orioles star who went 18 consecutive seasons without a game off, would scoff at the notion of being "happy" to play 110 games when there are 162 in a season.

But the bar for Izturis, 30, is not exactly set at a height Dwight Stones couldn't clear.

Izturis, who can play third base, shortstop and second, has made nine trips to the disabled list since 2005, including three in 2010, when he hit only .250 with three homers, 27 runs batted in and 27 runs in 61 games.

Izturis is so valuable that Scioscia often lumped his injuries with slugger Kendrys Morales' broken leg as the ones that most crippled the Angels in 2010, when they were 80-82 and scored 202 fewer runs than they did in 2009.

But as popular as Izturis can be when he's getting on base, hitting in the clutch and flashing his glove around the infield, he has been so fragile that fans on Angels message boards have taken to calling him "Glass-turis."

"You don't think he's tried?" Scioscia said when asked if there is anything more Izturis could do to avoid injuries. "He played 114 games two years ago, and he probably could have played more, but we didn't push him.

"This guy works out as hard as anyone in that clubhouse. At times, he's backed off some things; at times he's pushed harder, trying to find a balance. He's just had a little issue with some durability."

If Izturis remains healthy this season, there is a spot for him at the top of the lineup. Scioscia said at the beginning of camp that when Izturis plays, he will lead off, a role the Angels struggled to fill in the wake of Chone Figgins' departure after 2009.

With a .340 career on-base percentage, surprising power for a 5-foot-8, 170-pound man and a .323 career mark with runners in scoring position, Izturis is much better suited to lead off than shortstop Erick Aybar, a free swinger who didn't take to the role last season.

"We're really counting on what Izturis can bring," Scioscia said. "If you have Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu hitting first and second, that's as good a one-two punch as you're going to have."

That's assuming Izturis, who will probably open the season at third base, reprises a season like 2009, when he hit .300 with a .359 on-base percentage, eight homers, 65 RBIs and 74 runs.

"He probably could have played more in 2009, but we didn't push him," Scioscia said. "Hopefully, he'll get enough games to contribute and take some pressure off some other guys to lead off every day."

Some of Izturis' injuries have been difficult to avoid. His 2008 season was cut short when he tore a ligament in his left thumb diving for a ball in August, and he sat out nearly two months of 2005 because of a sprained knee ligament.

But most of the injuries have been hamstring and lower-back strains, which have led some to believe they could have been prevented with better conditioning.

Izturis played a month of winter ball in his native Venezuela this off-season, but in an effort to better prepare himself physically for the season, he spent most of January in Anaheim working with team trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.

"I'm trying to do the best with my body so I can stay on the field," Izturis said. "I can't control everything that happens. I'm just going to keep working."

There was some concern last week when Izturis sat out a few Cactus League games because of what the team called "general tightness," but Izturis has played regularly since Tuesday and appears sound heading into the March 31 season opener.

"If he's healthy, believe me, he can lead off," Abreu said of Izturis, who is beginning the second year of a three-year, $10-million contract. "He knows how to play the game."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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