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ANGELS

LaTroy Hawkins' traveling show pulls into Anaheim

Reliever, 39, is in camp with the Angels, his ninth team in 10 years. 'It's been fun,' he says of all his stops along the way.

February 21, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins throws during a spring training workout Monday in Tempe, Ariz. Hawkins still finds plenty to smile about when it comes to baseball.
Angels relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins throws during a spring training workout… (Morry Gash / Associated…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — If reliever LaTroy Hawkins picked an entry song that truly reflected his baseball career, it would be Johnny Cash's tune, "I've Been Everywhere."

The 39-year-old right-hander is now in camp with the Angels, his ninth team in 10 years.

After eight seasons in Minnesota, Hawkins moved to Chicago (Cubs), San Francisco, Baltimore, Colorado, New York (Yankees), Houston, Milwaukee and now Anaheim, where he is expected to be an important bullpen piece after signing a one-year, $3-million deal in December.

Forget Rawlings. He should have an endorsement deal with U-Haul.

Somewhere along the road, Hawkins noticed people taking pity on him, as if moving so often was difficult, and having to acclimate yourself to a new city, coaching staff and teammates every year was taxing.

Not even.

"It's been fun," said Hawkins, who will fill a key role in front of set-up man Scott Downs and closer Jordan Walden. "I could be moving around and going nowhere, around the corner, to a neighbor's house.

"I'm moving around in the game. I'm playing with the greatest players in the world. I'm almost 40 and playing a kid's sport. You can't beat that."

With a quick smile and gregarious personality, Hawkins has little trouble blending in. Three days into camp, he already has taken several young Angels pitchers to dinner and added even more phone numbers to a contact list that has to be among baseball's longest.

"I've got tons of trainers, traveling secretaries, pitching coaches, bullpen coaches, and that's not even mentioning teammates," Hawkins said. "People put a lot of emphasis on getting to know new people, but we're all baseball players, we all have something in common.

"I didn't get a chance to meet many new people in Minnesota. Once I left I started meeting a lot of great people in the game. That's been good for me."

Except maybe around the holidays.

"After I left Baltimore [in 2006] we stopped sending Christmas cards to everybody," said Hawkins, who is married with a 19-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. "The list got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were sending out more than 1,000 cards — that's not even conceivable."

One who probably won't drop off that list is Lewis Yocum, the Angels' team physician who performed career-prolonging surgery on Hawkins' throwing shoulder in August 2010.

Hawkins went on the disabled list twice that season because of shoulder fatigue and was limited to 18 games with Milwaukee, where he was 0-3 with an 8.44 earned-run average before being shut down in August.

Yocum repaired ligament and cartilage damage and cleaned out debris in the shoulder. Though he no longer throws an effortless 95-mph fastball, Hawkins did regain enough velocity and was 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 52 games last season to help Milwaukee reach the National League Championship Series. His average fastball velocity: 92.6 mph, according to fangraphs.com.

"It started coming back, but there's a difference between having to reach back to throw 95 and a smooth 95," said Hawkins, who is 63-85 with a 4.48 ERA in 17 seasons. "Now, I have to pump up to get to 95. I have to throw it with effort."

Velocity isn't everything, though. Fernando Rodney, the reliever Hawkins is replacing, hit 98 mph but had little clue where the ball was going last season.

"It's not how hard you throw it, it's where you throw it," said Hawkins, who also throws a slider, curve and changeup. "That's always the key. I have to rely more on location, which is fine with me."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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