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Hank Conger's throwing woes prompt Angels to go shopping

Young backup catcher has made four errors and has not caught a base stealer in six tries, so the Angels sign veteran catcher Chris Snyder to a minor league deal.

March 19, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times
  • Angels catcher Hank Conger tags out Mariners' Jesus Montero at home plate.
Angels catcher Hank Conger tags out Mariners' Jesus Montero at home… (Charlie Riedel / Associated…)

TEMPE, Ariz. — — Sail a few throws into left field, bounce a few to second base, and suddenly there's a new guy in the clubhouse poised to take your job.

That's the cold, hard reality for Angels catcher Hank Conger, whose throwing woes prompted the Angels to sign veteran catcher Chris Snyder to a minor league deal Monday, a move that will probably push Conger, a first-round pick in 2006, to triple-A Salt Lake, where he has spent most of the last three years.

"I've learned that nothing is really handed to you, whether it's a starting or backup job," Conger, 25, said. "It's been tough. You don't want to feel like you're letting a lot of people down."

Snyder, 32, was released by Washington on Monday morning, and he will be in Angels camp Tuesday. His deal includes an opt-out clause that allows him to become a free agent if he's not on the opening-day roster.

Snyder is nowhere near the offensive threat Conger is — he batted .176 with seven home runs in 258 plate appearances for Houston last season — but he is solid defensively with a strong arm, having thrown out 141 of 488 base-stealers (29%) over a nine-year big league career.

Conger entered camp as a heavy favorite to win the backup job, and as a switch-hitter who is far more dangerous from the left side — he's hitting .418 with a team-leading 11 runs batted in this spring — he seemed a natural complement to right-handed-hitting starter Chris Iannetta.

But Conger has made four errant throws to bases, has not caught a base stealer in six tries, and committed three errors in a minor league game Sunday, prompting the Angels to look for outside help.

"We wanted depth, and experienced catching is very difficult to find this time of year," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "This was an opportunity for us to have a two-week window to see if Chris is the best guy for our club at this time."

Conger, who has been working with numerous coaches, as well as team sports psychologist Ken Ravizza, acknowledges his throwing problems are "a little bit mental." He said his footwork and arm strength are good, but he's struggling to find a consistent release point.

Conger has one option left, so the Angels can send him to the minor leagues without having to pass him through waivers.

"It's frustrating because I feel like I'm doing everything else well as far as receiving, blocking balls, getting on the same page with the pitchers, hitting," Conger said. "But I know I can't hide this. It's going to get magnified. That's the nature of the game. I have to get past it."

Short hops

With the Angels off Monday, Joe Blanton threw 5 1/3 innings of a triple-A game against the Chicago Cubs, giving up one run and two hits, including a home run, striking out five and walking none. The right-hander was so efficient — 44 of his 58 pitches were strikes — that he threw an additional 15 pitches in the bullpen to increase his pitch count. Relievers Sean Burnett and Ernesto Frieri also threw scoreless, one-hit innings. … Jered Weaver, who was rocked for eight runs in two innings against Oakland on Saturday, will pitch in a minor league game Thursday. Jerome Williams starts an exhibition game that night against Texas.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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