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Angels spread arms wider

They introduce four pitchers, none named Greinke, who they hope will improve depth of the staff.

December 13, 2012|Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia introduces right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton, right-handed pitcher Tommy Hanson, left-handed pitcher Sean Burnett and right-handed pitcher Ryan Madson.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia introduces right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton,… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

It was a familiar tune, one played on an instrument Joe Blanton knows well: the second fiddle.

Blanton, who signed a two-year, $15-million deal with the Angels last week, had an earned-run average of 4.59 or above in six of seven years and gave up 27 homers or more in three of four years. But his biggest crime in the eyes of Angels fans is not that he, in his own words, "catches too much of the barrel" of bats.

It's that he is not Zack Greinke.

Greinke, a right-hander who pitched well for the Angels in September, signed a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers and was introduced at a glitzy Los Angeles news conference Tuesday.

A day late and $132 million short, the Angels introduced Blanton and new pitchers Ryan Madson, Tommy Hanson and Sean Burnett at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim, where conversation turned to the backlash among frustrated Angels fans.

"I don't blame fans for being disappointed -- I understand it," Blanton, 32, said. "Zack is one of the best pitchers in the game. You can't replace someone like that."

Blanton, whose contract includes an $8-million team option for 2015, was in a similar situation in July 2008 when he -- and not CC Sabathia -- was traded to Philadelphia.

"CC was on the market, and the Phillies really wanted him," Blanton said. "But he went to Milwaukee, I was traded from Oakland to Philly, and we won the World Series. I'm not comparing myself to CC, but I think it proves that it takes 25 guys to win the World Series, not one. The deeper you make a team, the better."

General Manager Jerry Dipoto took a similar approach this winter. Instead of spending $25 million a year on Greinke, he spread resources across four pitchers in an attempt to build "one-through-12 depth."

As a result, a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hanson, Blanton and Garrett Richards or Jerome Williams does not look as strong as the season-ending 2012 group of Weaver, Greinke, Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

But the bullpen -- which features Madson, the former Phillies closer who missed all of 2012 because of elbow surgery, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Burnett -- looks superior to a relief corps that led the American League with 47 blown saves the last two seasons.

"Our starters have to pitch to a certain point of the game, and they have the capability to do that," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "With the added depth in the bullpen, we'll hold leads much better than we did last year."

The health of Madson, Burnett and Hanson will be keys. Madson, eight months removed from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to begin throwing off a mound the first week of January.

The hard-throwing right-hander expects to be 100% by the start of the season but admits, "Whatever that 100% is after surgery remains to be seen."

In conversations with such pitchers as Troy Percival and Danys Baez about ligament-replacement surgery, Madson, 32, knows he may feel physically sound in April but may not feel like his old self until July.

"You run into problems when you feel good but the ligament isn't ready," said Madson, who had 32 saves in 2011. "It needs to become pliable. You don't want to stretch it out too fast."

However, Madson would prefer not to be eased into closing. "If pitching in back-to-back games is not allowed, that's fine, but if I'm available, I want to pitch the ninth inning," he said. "That's where I've tuned my mentality."

Burnett, whose two-year, $8-million deal includes a $4.5-million option for 2015 that vests with 110 games pitched in 2013-2014, went 1-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 70 games for Washington last season but struggled in the second half because of elbow problems. The left-hander had two bone spurs removed in October.

"I'm right on track and have had no setbacks," Burnett, 30, said. "I should be 100% in spring training."

Hanson, a 26-year-old right-hander, had a record of 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA for Atlanta in the first half of 2011, but lower-back and shoulder problems led to a 14-13 record, 4.96 ERA and reduced fastball velocity in 36 starts since.

"I had a couple of issues with my back and had to make adjustments," Hanson said, "but now that I'm healthy and feel good, I don't see why I can't be that guy" I was in the first half of 2011.

Blanton has issues, but health is not one of them.

"Joe has been steady and durable, he's been on winning teams, he's carried the ball through six-plus innings a night and given you 30 starts a year," Dipoto said. "I think Joe knows who he is, and we're glad to have him."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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