Angels shift toward a leadoff platoon. Josh Hamilton seems to be the culprit.

Mike Trout has said he enjoys hitting leadoff. It’s what he has done for most of his baseball life and what he did Monday and Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners. But he was batting second again for the Angels on Thursday night.

Peter Bourjos, the leadoff hitter Wednesday, wasn’t batting first either.

Erick Aybar was the first man up Thursday after a 13-game absence from the top of the order, and manager Mike Scioscia said that the top of the order could be a rotating affair beyond tonight.
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Kevin Jepsen, Ryan Madson and Erick Aybar give Angels a ‘pretty good team’ at extended spring training.

Kevin Jepsen, Erick Aybar and Ryan Madson are heading to Tempe, Arizona today to continue their rehab at extended spring training.

“Got a pretty good team there, sure,” manager Mike Scioscia said.

In each case, that’s a good sign for the Angels, but the timetable is different for each player’s recovery.
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Mike Trout is batting second, Alberto Callaspo first, as Angels shuffle lineup.

Alberto Callaspo

Albert Callaspo batted leadoff 12 times for the Angels in 2010, hitting .148 with a .179 on-base percentage. He returns to the top of the lineup Thursday. (Associated Press)

Mike Trout has one career start as the Angels’ number-two hitter.

Alberto Callaspo said he didn’t remember the last time he batted leadoff.

Yet that’s where they’ll be batting tonight against the Oakland A’s, and for the immediate future.

It was the first thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked about in his pregame media scrum. The first thing he said in response: “I think it’s just really a common sense move.”

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Postgame thoughts: A’s 9, Angels 5

Sean Burnett was not dealing with a blister, in his mind or on the middle finger of his left hand.

Mike Scioscia seemed to disagree when he left right-hander Kevin Jepsen in to face A’s lefties John Jaso and Brandon Moss in the seventh inning with the southpaw Burnett available out of the bullpen. “Jeppy was the guy to get out of that inning,” Scioscia said, before mentioning Burnett’s blister.

Burnett said that there was no blister. Ever.

“It was more my nail came out of the bed” three days ago in Texas, he said. “It was a one-day thing. It happens all the time with my breaking ball … I was 100 percent.”

Burnett pitched Tuesday. He seemed healthy. He faced four batters in a scoreless eighth inning. Scioscia simply chose to save Burnett for the start of the eighth inning rather than the two-on, two-out situation in the seventh, citing the blister. It proved to be the wrong call.

Whether you attribute the Angels’ 9-5 loss to the Oakland A’s on Tuesday to Scioscia leaving in Jepsen too long, or to Jepsen for allowing two homers in the seventh inning, may be a matter of degrees. Six of one, half a dozen of another, there are still issues in the Angels bullpen. Right?

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Angels’ Erick Aybar will “probably get the first crack” at batting second, Mike Scioscia says.

Erick Aybar

Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday that Erick Aybar will “probably get the first crack” at occupying the number two spot in the lineup when the Angels open the season April 1 in Cincinnati.

“I think that’s what our template is and hopefully we’ll get a little chemistry in the last week” of spring training, Scioscia said.

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Dominican Republic advances to World Baseball Classic final.

Erick Aybar didn’t play, but the Dominican Republic advanced to the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on Monday by beating The Netherlands 4-1 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Miguel Tejada played third base for the DR, which eliminated the United States on Saturday in Miami. From the Associated Press:

Late lineup addition Moises Sierra hit a tying RBI double in the fifth, Jose Reyes added a go-ahead single two batters later and the Dominican Republic reached the WBC final with a 4-1 win against the Netherlands on Monday night.

Edwin Encarnacion had an RBI single as the undefeated Dominicans survived a rocky start from winner Edinson Volquez, who benefited from Sierra’s catch over the left-field wall in foul territory to end a first-inning threat.

”We didn’t try to make history,” Volquez said. ”We’re just trying to keep winning.’

We might see Aybar tomorrow. Here’s another look at his game-winning hit against the U.S. from Saturday, worth another look if only for the ridiculous called strike that preceded it:

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Angels’ Erick Aybar 1 for 4, scores tying run at World Baseball Classic.

Erick Aybar Robinson Cano Jose Reyes

Erick Aybar (left) celebrates with Dominican Republic teammates Robinson Cano (center) and Jose Reyes (right) after beating Italy 5-4 at the World Baseball Classic.

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar only had one hit Tuesday for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, but it was a big one.

Aybar singled and scored the game-tying run as the DR erased a 4-0 deficit and beat Italy 5-4 on Tuesday in Miami. Aybar served as the designated hitter, with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes playing shortstop.

After a day off on Wednesday, the Dominican Republic returns to the field Thursday against an opponent to be determined.

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Cubs 11, Angels (SS) 2: Postgame thoughts.

Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jerome Williams knows his place on the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching staff. His job is to be ready for any role necessary.

Making his first spring training start since 2007, Williams allowed a home run to Luis Valbuena but little else Saturday as an Angels split squad was beaten 11-2 by the Chicago Cubs.

“I got the first homer out of the way,” Williams said. “It was a curve. (Valbuena) had to go down to get it and he did.”

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Erick Aybar will be the only Angel in the World Baseball Classic.

The final rosters for the World Baseball Classic were announced Thursday, and only one Angel was listed: Erick Aybar.Erick Aybar

That comes as no surprise, as Aybar was listed on the preliminary roster for the Dominican Republic last month. The Angels were counting on losing him, and no one else, when WBC games and practices begin in March. The Dominican team has pool-play games March 7, 9 and 10 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Their complete schedule and roster is here.

In the meantime, Aybar will be one of the Angels’ few projected opening-day starters who will see plenty of playing time early in spring training.

“Erick will play, probably not every day,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Just because he’s going to the WBC, you can’t cram him and play him every day, every game. We’ll play him, then maybe give him a day to recover, play him a couple, try to get him acclimated to velocity, try to find some kind of a rhythm. It’s not ideal for the player or the team but we’ll do what we have to do.”

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Daily Distractions: Love for the Angels’ gloves, Tim Salmon in Germany, Luis Jimenez on a tear.

Erick AybarIt was nice to see the Angels’ defense get a little love today – OK, a lot of love – in MLB.com’s rankings of the majors’ 10 best defenses. The Angels led the pack, ahead of the Rays (2), Reds (3), Nationals (4), Giants (5), Rangers (6), Padres (7), Braves (8), Orioles (9) and A’s (10).

The outfield of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton has already been mentioned as one of the best in recent memory. The Angels’ worst defensive infielder is second baseman Howie Kendrick, but he’s considered average by some metrics (notably range factor) and managed to lead the league in fielding percentage in 2011.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that the Angels have overhauled their pitching staff. Righty Joe Blanton and lefty Jason Vargas are contact pitchers, certainly more than Dan Haren and Zack Greinke. Will the Angels’ defense help their effectiveness? That was part of the thinking in both acquisitions – we’ll see if it matches up with reality.

If there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s that Hamilton had a major off-year in the field in 2012. His ultimate zone rating – designed to account for a fielder’s ability to prevent runs with his arm, range, double plays and “errorlessness” (for lack of a better word) – was a woeful -12.6. That was mostly a result of his play in center field, however, and moving to right field could be the cure to what ails him.

Onto the links …

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