Veterans feeling the heat

March 28, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The dog days of a baseball season aren't confined to August. They can also hit in late March, when many veterans tire of the Groundhog Day-like tedium of spring training and are itching for the regular season to start.

"When the lights go on, everything changes," said Jason Isringhausen, a 39-year-old reliever in camp with the Angels. "The adrenaline kicks back in, and it's go time. It's fun again. Things are a little monotonous now. Everyone is physically ready to go. You want the season to start."

Not so fast, Manager Mike Scioscia said.

"The tendency might be to think, 'Let's get the season started,' but we're still tightening things up like right-side defense, pitcher-catcher relationship, things that are important to us winning games," Scioscia said before the Angels' 5-3 exhibition win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday in Scottsdale Stadium. "You have to let that process play out. You can't skip any steps. We have [five] days left in Arizona. This is an important week for us as a team and for some individuals in that room."

Especially for players such as Isringhausen, Bobby Abreu and Kendrys Morales. Isringhausen was considered a lock to make the team early in camp, but a 9.82 earned-run average and some command problems in his first four games have put him on somewhat shaky ground. He'll try to right himself pitching Wednesday and Thursday.

"When my mechanics are good, everything feels effortless, but right now I feel like I'm throwing a weighted ball," Isringhausen said. "I have another week and a half to iron it out."

Isringhausen is focused on quieting his hands and getting his legs and upper body in sync. His velocity is fine, and his arm feels good. "I need to get to the point where I'm not thinking about mechanics, just about executing," Isringhausen said. "Don't think, just throw."

Abreu needs to hit, and soon. The disgruntled outfielder flied out, grounded out and walked against Giants ace Tim Lincecum, his average falling to .095 (four for 42). The Angels tried to appease Abreu, 38, in February by assuring him he'd get 400 plate appearances this season, but his role appears to be shrinking with every weak at-bat, and the Angels may have no choice but to release him and swallow his $9-million contract.

"We've got to start gearing up for the season," Scioscia said, "and he needs some hits to fall in."

This final week is also important for Morales to continue the momentum he has built toward a return from a broken left ankle, which has sidelined the slugger for nearly two years. Morales had eight hits, including a home run, in 13 at-bats of his first four games, and he had two hits in a triple-A game against Colorado on Tuesday. Scioscia said earlier in camp that if Morales was ready by opening day, he would probably hit lower in the order and work his way up to the cleanup spot. But Morales has been so impressive that Scioscia indicated the switch-hitter would probably hit fourth behind Albert Pujols to open the season.

"If the 20 or so at-bats he's had here are any indication, he looks very comfortable in the box," Scioscia said. "There might not be a need to do some of the things we've talked about."

Hurting hurlers Right-hander reliever Michael Kohn, who had positioned himself to make the club with five scoreless spring innings, has been diagnosed with a forearm strain, an injury that will sideline him for at least a week and probably push him to the disabled list to open the season.

  With Bobby Cassevah yet to pitch in a game this spring because of a sore shoulder — the right-hander threw off a mound for the first time in a week Tuesday — the path has been cleared for right-handers Rich Thompson and Kevin Jepsen, or perhaps Francisco Rodriguez, to join a seven-man bullpen.