Angels open home slate against playoff-spoiling KC Royals
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) After a solid season-opening series in Seattle, the Los Angeles Angels are back home to face the opponents who reduced their 98-win regular season to rubble last October.
The AL champion Kansas City Royals beat the Angels on back-to-back 11th-inning homers at the Big A before finishing off the division series with a surprising sweep last season, leaving Los Angeles with little to show for six months of standout work.
After making relatively few changes to their roster around Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, the Angels are back for another shot at Kansas City and more dreams of October success - but the memories of the Royals' gritty performances in Anaheim lingered in the offseason.
''I think the guys probably still think about it,'' said Angels third baseman David Freese, who homered in the series opener. ''It was a time where for some guys, it was their first playoff experience and a time we thought we had a shot to do some more special things, but we kind of ran into a Mack truck in the Royals. But I think you turn the page quick. Everybody understood that it was a successful season and we brought the division title back here.''
After winning the spring training competition for a rotation spot, left-hander Hector Santiago makes his season debut on the mound for the Angels, who had Thursday off. Kansas City counters with left-hander Jason Vargas, the former Angels starter and Southern California native.
Los Angeles made two early leads stand up with solid pitching in two victories over the up-and-coming Mariners. With those wins, the Angels so far have avoided their recent tradition of painfully slow starts to the regular season.
Varying degrees of poor early performances doomed every season from 2010-13. The Angels also were swept by Seattle in their season-opening series last year at the Big A - although they recovered nicely.
Before the Angels must spend another week on the road, they've got a chance for a bit of empty revenge on the Royals, who swept the Chicago White Sox in a powerful season-opening series of their own.
The Angels are hoping to get that revenge without Josh Hamilton, who is rehabilitating from shoulder surgery in Houston. The outfielder with $83 million and three seasons left on his contract went 0 for 13 against the Royals, capping two mostly lousy years in which he was frequently booed at the Big A.
Hamilton isn't expected to be in town for the home opener, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn't even know whether Hamilton will drop by when the team visits Houston next week. Yet Hamilton is likely to be healthy within a few weeks, and the Angels likely must figure out how to fit him back into a team that appears to be getting along just fine without him.
''All he's got to do now is just focus on getting healthy,'' Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson said. ''There won't be any other obstacles, which I think is a good thing. ... Josh came forward. He admitted fault, and I think that's a very manly thing to do in this day and age when everyone is trying to cover up stuff and buy people off and things like that in similar circumstances. I think that just shows that Josh understands that he's under the microscope.''
Scioscia replaced Hamilton in left field with three different players in the season-opening series in Seattle. Matt Joyce, Collin Cowgill and Efren Navarro each got a start in left, although only Navarro got a hit before getting lifted for a defensive replacement.
Yet Hamilton's inconsistent bat wasn't critical to the majors' highest-scoring offense last season.
Trout and Pujols have looked solid at the plate so far this year, while longtime Royals infielder Johnny Giavotella is off to a surprising 4-for-9 start as Howie Kendrick's replacement at second base. Giavotella was designated for assignment by Kansas City in December after managing 104 hits in parts of four big league seasons.