Inside Pitch: Around The AL West

As we inch closer to Opening Day, Inside Pitch stops by the camps of the other three AL West teams to give A's fans the inside scoop on the competition.

Anaheim Angels

INSIDE PITCH

The Angels are taking a risk handing the ninth inning to 23-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, but they have no doubt he has the confidence to get the job done. Being a World Series hero and an All-Star in your first two-plus seasons tend to inflate a young man's ego.

"Everything I know, I learned by myself," Rodriguez said. "It's natural. That's it. It's a gift God gave me."

They are formidable gifts, indeed. His daunting fastball and cartoon-like slider helped him jump into the game's national consciousness as a 20-year-old setting up Troy Percival in the 2002 World Series. Though he toiled in the relative obscurity of the seventh and eighth innings, many observers considered him one of the top three relief pitchers in the American League last year.

Rodriguez said his intense self-belief goes back further than these moments of major league glory. It started in a place called Barrio Kennedy, a hillside slum near downtown Caracas, Venezuela.

When he was four, he played with kids two or three years older. When he was six, he played with kids age eight to 10, he said. He excelled playing against older boys, just as he does now.

"I came out of nowhere, from a poor family, with nothing," Rodriguez said. "It was an urban jungle. That's one reason why I am like I am."

Rodriguez had the misfortune of being born the 14th child of parents who were in the process of splitting up as he came into the world. He was given to his father's parents, and he took to referring to his grandfather as his father and his grandmother as his mother. They sheltered him from the dangerous distractions of the neighborhood.

"Our building was OK. There were a lot of good people living there. But next to us it was kind of tough," Rodriguez said. "There were a lot of gangs. That's one reason my grandpa wanted to keep me busy playing baseball. I played from the time I was three years old."

Angels catcher Jose Molina has known Rodriguez since they played Triple-A ball together in Salt Lake before both were called up in 2002.

"He was one of those guys who wasn't afraid of anything," Molina said. "It's probably because of his country, what he's been through. For some people life is easy. For a lot of people, it's not."

Notes

--An MRI of RHP Scot Shields' right shin showed a stress reaction, which can grow into a stress fracture if it continues to take a pounding. Previously, the team thought Shields was suffering from relatively minor shin splints. Manager Mike Scioscia said Shields has been cleared to pitch, but he won't be doing the running pitchers normally do after and between their outings.

--2B Adam Kennedy has cleared every hurdle he has faced and could return from the disabled list as soon as the end of April. Kennedy has been able to turn double plays and move in both directions to field groundballs. He has run the bases and taken live batting practice without pain.

"The last couple of days are like my first days of spring training," Kennedy said. "It's going to take me 10-14 days to get in baseball shape."

Shortly after the Angels' season begins, Kennedy is likely to embark on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

--RHP Bartolo Colon has been getting treatment for lower-back stiffness, but manager Mike Scioscia said he should be fine. "Nothing's showing up, but a little spring stiffness," Scioscia said.

--SS Orlando Cabrera couldn't get a commercial flight out of Cartagena, Colombia, on Saturday (March 19) because of the coming Easter holiday. He said he had to rent a Colombian Congressman's private jet to return to Arizona and didn't arrive until 2:30 Sunday morning.

He had flown to Colombia to complete the paperwork for himself, his wife and his two children to become permanent residents of the United States. Cabrera owns a home in Florida but lives in Colombia.

Seattle Mariners

INSIDE PITCH

The Mariners came into the spring thinking they might put Ryan Franklin in the bullpen this season. Just one problem: Franklin heard about it, but he never bought into it.

And with decision time coming near, it seems more and more likely that Franklin will retain his spot in the rotation.

Coming into this week, Franklin has a 4.09 ERA in three starts. His last time out, Friday (March 18), he needed just 48 pitches to throw five shutout innings. He wanted to throw more and was given permission to throw an extra 20 pitches in the bullpen to build up arm strength before his day was done.

The right-hander said that the very notion that he might have to compete for a job in the rotation was motivation. But it wasn't a notion he could embrace.

"Has it made it tougher? Yeah, I guess," Franklin said. "All I can say is that I'd better be a starter."

Hargrove said that Franklin's outing Friday supported the pitcher's case.

"He's got a pretty strong case," Hargrove said.

Franklin said he's learned to tone down his all-out style, and that's made him a better pitcher.

"My focus was really good," he said. "In the past, I've been a guy who goes all-out from the get-go. I finally learned to be more in control, pitching instead of every pitch being thrown as hard as I can."

He said the turnaround came in the last month of last season, when he had a 4.21 ERA, his best monthly figure of 2004.

It hasn't hurt Franklin any that one of the prime candidates to wrest Franklin's job from him, Jorge Campillo, has had a tough spring (10.80 ERA coming into the week).

Notes

--LHP Eddie Guardado, who threw a bullpen session Sunday (March 20), is on tap to pitch in some simulated games this week. The Mariners want to see if they can keep Guardado's arm strength up while at the same time not getting in the way of his recovering from a strained right groin. "I'm fine," Guardado said. "I can't complain."

--RHP Joel Pineiro pitches in a minor league game Monday (March 21), his first game action in almost three weeks. He's been dealing with muscle stiffness behind his right shoulder, a problem that is clearing up nicely.

--OF Chris Snelling (medial meniscus surgery) has begun doing some light agility drills in the field in addition to hitting off a tee, which he started doing last week.

--RHP Ryan Franklin, sent home Saturday (March 19) with food poisoning, isn't expected to miss any game time. His next scheduled start is Wednesday (March 23).

--RHP Aaron Sele is making a strong run at the fifth starter's job. He's allowed just two runs in 12 spring innings and no runs in the last nine innings.

--LHPs George Sherrill, Nate Bland and Matt Thornton are all in the running for the one remaining spot open to a lefty situational reliever. "No one's taken the job yet," manager Mike Hargrove said, adding, "I think someone here in camp will."

Texas Rangers

INSIDE PITCH

Is it time yet to get worried about 2B Alfonso Soriano?

Now seems as good a time as any.

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Soriano is yet to show signs of snapping out of a spring-long funk at the plate and in the field.

He's been tentative on his left leg, the one in which he tore a hamstring tendon last September. Though the Rangers insist the leg is structurally fine, Soriano has been balky in his approach to balls in the field. He's made three errors and has been unable to get to several other balls that should have been outs.

He was also limited for nearly a week by the flu, costing him six days of playing time.

At the plate, Soriano, who doesn't do much in the way of baseball workouts during the winter, has looked lost. He can get into the habit of lunging at balls, which makes him susceptible to strikeouts. Before going 2-for-5 Sunday, he was 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts this spring.

"He's been around and he knows what it takes to get ready," SS Michael Young said. "He knows when to push it and when to back off. We trust him to be the great player that he is."

But the leg injury is a new obstacle for Soriano. He's never had to deal with coming back from that kind of injury in the spring. And six months after the injury occurred, he still sounds tentative.

"I want to test my leg," he said over the weekend. "I'd like to know how it feels because there are only two weeks left until the season."

Rangers manager Buck Showalter admitted over the weekend that a setback of any kind for Soriano might force him to open the season on the DL. INF Ian Kinsler would likely take his place.

Notes

--DH-1B Greg Colbrunn was added to the 40-man roster last week in accordance with the details of his minor league contract. Colbrunn has not, however, secured a job as the team's right-handed DH. He had just two hits in his first 20 at-bats this spring. Thing is, there, isn't much competition from other right-handed bats. It might force the Rangers to keep looking for other options in trades or on waivers.

--To make room for Colbrunn, the Rangers designated 2B Jason Bourgeois for assignment. With the move of prospect INF Ian Kinsler from short to second, Bourgeois had simply been passed by in the Rangers system.

--The prospects grow that RHP Frank Francisco will have to open the season on the DL because of elbow soreness. Francisco's most recent setback was not related to the elbow at all, but rather to the flu epidemic coursing through the clubhouse. Nonetheless, it has slowed him down even more. He has yet to face a hitter and, in a best-case scenario, wouldn't do so until the final week of exhibitions. The Rangers would like him to get seven to 10 exhibition innings under his belt. If Francisco starts the year on the DL, RHP Doug Brocail may move from the seventh inning to share eighth-inning duties with RHP Carlos Almanzar.


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