Albert Pujols plays five innings at first base, declares himself ready for Opening Day.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols wasn’t tested much in his first spring training game at first base Tuesday. He caught four throws from infielders on groundouts. He shuffled his feet. He got into a deep crouch before every pitch. He looked like himself.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Pujols to declare himself ready to play first base on Opening Day, April 1 in Cincinnati.

“I feel ready to go if Opening Day was tomorrow,” he said.

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Reports: Angels seeking alternative to Hank Conger.

According to multiple reports, the Angels are seeking help for their backup catcher position. Hank Conger is the front-runner in camp, hitting .417 in Cactus League play, but his erratic throws to second base have given the team pause.

While Conger has pledged to straighten out the issue in time for Opening Day, it makes sense if the Angels are in the market for a better defensive alternative to starter Chris Iannetta.

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Mitch Stetter (finally) nearing spring debut with Angels.

You’d never guess it, but pitcher Mitch Stetter was among the first players to report to spring training with the Angels.

It wasn’t hard. Mitch StetterStetter lives about 10 minutes north of Tempe. He dropped by early in February, threw about 10 bullpen sessions and hurt his lower back in the 11th. After an initial diagnosis of a stress fracture in his vertebrae, Stetter had a CT scan that revealed a bulging disk.

He’s yet to appear in a spring training game while adhering to a prescription of rest and anti-inflammatory medications. But after throwing a bullpen today, “most likely I’ll take two days off then pitch Sunday,” Stetter said.

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Bill Hall leaves Angels to get an MRI on calf, status to be determined.

Bill HallBill Hall was in street clothes a little after 9:30 a.m. today, while the rest of his Angels teammates were getting ready for pregame drills.

Hall was off to get an MRI on his left calf, which tightened up on him during infield drills on Wednesday. Hall believes he may have been overcompensating for a previous injury to his right quadriceps when he hurt his calf. Angels manager Mike Scioscia noted that Hall injured his left calf last year.

“It’s real frustrating,” Hall said. “I was playing well. I did a lot of work this off-season to try and prevent things like that.”

Both Hall and Scioscia said it’s too early to project an exact timetable for Hall, but the MRI will go a long way toward determining when he can return. Regardless, he’s running out of time. The annual preseason Angels-Dodgers “Freeway Series” begins two weeks from today.

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Angels’ Bill Hall suffers another injury setback.

Veteran utilityman Bill Hall, who is trying to make the Angels as a non-roster invitee to spring training, suffered another injury setback Wednesday morning.Bill Hall

The 33-year-old “felt his calf tighten up on him in infield (drills),” manager Mike Scioscia said after the Angels lost 8-6 to the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Arizona. “We’ll evaluate him day to day.”

Hall, who hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since Feb. 27, was attempting to come back from an injured right quadriceps muscle when he suffered the calf injury. He had three hits, all doubles, in nine Cactus League at-bats.

If he’s able to rediscover the hitting stroke that allowed him to play no fewer than 110 games in a season from 2004-10, Hall would give the Angels an intriguing option as a multi-position backup — but only if he’s healthy. If infielders Luis Rodriguez (.375 BA/.760 OPS), Andrew Romine (.323 OBP, four steals) and Luis Jimenez (.308/.886) perform well, Hall’s chances of making the Angels’ opening-day roster will only diminish the longer he sits.

He had the following message for fans on Twitter Wednesday afternoon:

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Angels pitcher Sean Burnett criticizes his ‘sloppy’ Cactus League debut.

Sean BurnettSean Burnett could have dismissed his first outing of spring training as easily as his catcher, Chris Iannetta.

“It’s the first day out,” Iannetta said after Burnett allowed four hits and two runs in one-third of an inning Wednesday against the San Diego Padres. “You’re not worried about results.”

Burnett was.

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Breaking: Angels’ Albert Pujols reaches first base, doesn’t need a courtesy runner.

Albert PujolsAlbert Pujols was not lifted for a courtesy runner upon reaching first base on a fielder’s choice in the first inning of the Angels’ spring training game Wednesday against the San Diego Padres.

That’s a Cactus League first for the Angels first baseman, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last October. Pujols was forced out and did not run to second base when the next batter, Josh Hamilton, grounded into a double play.

Pujols has been running the bases in practice.

3:48 p.m. update: Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the game that Pujols wanted to run the bases today. He did not request a courtesy runner and  have that request denied by Bud Black, the Padres’ manager.

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Daily Distractions: The new WBC favorite; Cactus League attendance down; Wilson on steroids, etc.

WBC logoI started toying with this mental exercise last night: What if the state of California had a team in the World Baseball Classic?

Forget about how many players would decline invitations. Forget about generational eligibility — if you were born in California, you’re eligible (which is fine, since I had a better chance of making Team Wisconsin anyways). What would that team look like? Could it contend?

The answer is yes.

C: John Jaso, Mariners/Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
3B: Ty Wigginton, Cardinals
LF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
CF: Coco Crisp, A’s
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
DH: Prince Fielder, Tigers
UT: Skip Schumaker, Dodgers

SP: Jered Weaver, Angels
SP: CC Sabathia, Yankees
SP: James Shields, Royals
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RP: Sergio Romo, Giants
RP: Brandon League, Dodgers
RP: Addison Reed, White Sox
RP: Dale Thayer, Padres
RP: J.P. Howell, Dodgers
RP: Bryan Shaw, Diamondbacks
RP: Kris Medlen, Braves

Manager: Dusty Baker, Reds
Hitting coach: Mark McGwire, Dodgers
Pitching coach: Chris Bosio, Cubs

Apologies to C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo, Michael Young, Will Venable, Brandon McCarthy, Kyle Lohse, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Quentin. Perhaps you can dig into your family tree and find another state to play for.

On to some bullet points:

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Angels, Diamondbacks rained (winded, and hailed) out.

The Angels’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was called due to inclement weather in the third inning with the game tied 1-1. An on-again, off-again rainfall gave way to heavy wind and hail around 2:40 p.m. local time, forcing everyone off the field at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

What few statistics were compiled in the game won’t count at the end of spring training.

There was a purpose to the game, even if it was mostly lost upon fans — and there were plenty of fans Friday despite pregnant pregame clouds and forecasts of rain. First pitch was delayed about 25 minutes. During the delay, Mike Scioscia and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson met on the field to figure out what the other wanted to accomplish.

“They needed some guys to throw,” Scioscia said. “(Brad) Ziegler needed to pitch. It’s usually you need your guys to stay up on innings. That’s what we needed. Joe (Blanton) got his work in and finished up a little bit in the ‘pen. He wanted to throw some pitches out of the stretch.

“Believe me, we milked about every pitch we could out of today. We got something accomplished.”
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