The Angels and Dodgers are both teams with high expectations for the regular… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
TEMPE, Ariz. — The big-budget-production Dodgers and Angels will hold their 2013 Southern California premiere Thursday night when they open the traditional Freeway Series at Angel Stadium. The teams play Friday night in Dodger Stadium and Saturday night in Anaheim.
Like the last five weeks of exhibitions in Arizona, these games don't count — the Dodgers open the regular season Monday at home against the defending World Series-champion San Francisco Giants; the Angels open Monday at Cincinnati.
But with the bold moves they've made and enormous sums of money they've spent in pursuit of a championship, there is a heightened sense of anticipation surrounding the series.
"It's going to be a great environment," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "There's no hiding the fact you have two teams with World Series aspirations. They have an awesome lineup. We feel like we do too. What the fans in Los Angeles and Anaheim are going to get to see this year is pretty special."
One new face in the Angels' bullpen will be familiar to the Dodgers. Veteran reliever Mark Lowe, released by the Dodgers on Sunday, signed a minor league deal with the Angels on Wednesday and could play a significant role.
"He has a power arm, and if he throws to his capabilities, there's no doubt he can help us," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We'll get a look at him in the Freeway Series and see if his talent shows up."
Lowe, 29, has a 3.94 earned-run average in seven seasons, but the pitching-rich Dodgers had no room for him. With a 95-mph fastball, Lowe could upgrade a beleaguered relief corps that has pitched so poorly this spring that Scioscia used an unprintable expletive when asked to describe it Wednesday.
"I think some of the guys are coming along slowly," Scioscia said of a group headed by Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett. "Hopefully this last week as we get to the Freeway Series we're going to see some things start to come together."
The Freeway Series will give several reserves a final chance to win bench spots. Infielder Andrew Romine and outfielder Kole Calhoun appear to be locks.
Hank Conger, Chris Snyder and John Hester are battling for the reserve catcher spot, and infielders Brendan Harris, Luis Jimenez, Efren Navarro and Luis Rodriguez, and outfielder J.B. Shuck, are in the mix for the last bench spot.
With Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers shortstop, on the disabled list, there is one spot open on Manager Don Mattingly's bench. Mattingly would like an extra outfielder who could be a late-inning defensive replacement for Carl Crawford, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Candidates include Alfredo Amezaga, Alex Castellanos and Elian Herrera.
Freeway Series pitching matchups
Thursday, 7:05 p.m., Angel Stadium Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers vs. Joe Blanton, Angels Friday, 7:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium Jason Vargas, Angels vs. Josh Beckett, Dodgers Saturday, 6:05 p.m., Angel Stadium Zack Greinke, Dodgers vs. Tommy Hanson, Angels
Mattingly will also use the weekend to sort out his surplus of pitchers. The rotation appears set with Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke and Chad Billingsley, but three starters — Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly — are in limbo and could be traded or moved to the bullpen.
Saturday is an important start for Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147-million deal in December but has been slowed by a sore elbow this spring.
Greinke threw only 64 pitches in his last start and would need to get to the area of 85 pitches to be ready to open the season.
"I have to build up arm strength and fine-tune some off-speed stuff," Greinke said. "If the arm strength is there, I could make it work. That's the most important thing."
Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.