This past weekend I was lucky enough to make my first trip to Arizona for Spring Training.
It was a short visit – a cup of coffee, if you will – but I made the most of it.
In less than 65 hours, I drove over 900 miles, saw 5 different stadiums, and watched 45 innings of Cactus League baseball. I saw 41 runs cross the plate, 8 home runs leave the park, and took over 350 pictures.
And the best part about it? The Angels went 4-0.
Friday, March 23, 2012 – LAA @ MIL
The first stop on my Spring Training road trip was Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix: Home of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Fans were in for a pitcher’s duel as Angels righty Dan Haren was scheduled to take on 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. And neither pitcher disappointed.
Haren went 5 strong innings giving up 2 runs and 1 walk while striking out 3. It was another solid performance by the Southern CA native. Unfortunately for Haren, Greinke was just that much better.
The former Kansas City Royals ace went 5.1 innings giving up just 2 hits while racking up 9 strikeouts. It was an impressive outing that included taking a no-hitter into the 4th inning only to have it broken up by a Peter Bourjos lead-off bunt single.
In the end, Greinke’s effort wouldn’t be enough.
The Brewers bullpen fell apart late in the game, giving up 6 runs, including a solo shot by Mark Trumbo off former Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Final: LAA 6, MIL 3 (W – Walden, L – Axford, S – Thompson)
Friday, March 23, 2012 – LAA @ CLE
While Friday night’s game against the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark didn’t have the built in drama of that afternoon’s pitching duel, there was still plenty to see.
Kendrys Morales was scheduled to start in just his second game with the Angels since fracturing his ankle back in May 2010. Pitching prospect Matt Shoemaker was trying his best to make a good impression on Scioscia and the rest of the staff. And I finally got to see Albert Pujols play as a member of the Angels.
Morales continued the hot hitting that we had seen in his return against the Royals on Thursday, going 2-for-3 with a booming home run in the top of the 2nd inning. It was his first since the infamous walk-off grand slam that sidelined the Cuban slugger for more than 22 months.
Pujols went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk, but it was the young pitching prospect Shoemaker who shined. The Michigan native pitched well through 5 innings, giving up just 1 run on 5 hits and picking up the win for the Angels.
Maicer Izturis racked up 3 hits, including an RBI triple in the top of the 7th. Other productive hitters included Alexi Amarista and Bobby Abreu who each picked up an RBI.
Final: LAA 4, CLE 1 (W – Shoemaker, L – Tomlin, S – Brasier)
Saturday, March 24, 2012 – LAA @ TEX
The atmosphere was electric at Surprise Stadium for the first meeting of the year between the two AL West Powerhouses.
Ervin Santana took the mound for the Halos, pitching 5 quality innings and giving up just 1 run on a solo shot off the bat of Ian Kinsler in the bottom of the 5th.
The Angels offense was quiet for the first 4 innings until Trumbo lead off the 5th with his first double of the spring before moving to third on a Hank Conger ground out and scoring on a wild pitch by Texas starting pitcher Greg Reynolds.
The scoring continued in the 6th as Amarista drove in Bourjos from first on a line-drive double to center field before coming around to score on a Morales groundball single to right.
Newly-acquired Angel reliever LaTroy Hawkins pitched 2 innings of 2 hit baseball, giving up 1 run and striking out 2 before prospects Kevin Johnson and Andrew Taylor closed out the game for the Halos.
Final: LAA 3, TEX 2 (W – Santana, L – Nathan, S – Taylor)
Saturday, March 24, 2012 – KC @ ARI
Since this is an Angels website, I’ll spare you the details of this non-Angels game.
Just know this: (1) Alex Gordon is a beast, (2) Kansas City has a very impressive young team, and (3) Salt River Fields was the nicest stadium I had a chance to see.
Final: KC 6, ARI 5 (W – Jeffress, L – Skaggs, S – Holland)
Sunday, March 25, 2012 – TEX @ LAA
The highlight of the trip had to be visiting the Spring Training home of the Angels: Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The match-up between the Halos and the Rangers didn’t disappoint either.
Things started off quickly as the first five batters of the game were retired in order before Pujols ripped a 2 strike, 2 out pitch over the left field wall. The Angels would score again in the 2nd when Vernon Wells reached base on a fielding error by first baseman Mitch Moreland before eventually coming around to score on a sac fly off the bat of Trumbo.
The platoon of Angels starter Trevor Bell and relievers Daniel Tillman, Scott Downs, and Francisco Rodriguez pitched phenomenal baseball, giving up just 4 hits over 7 scoreless innings. Unfortunately, blown saves by Kevin Jepsen and Jason Isringhausen couldn’t hold up the support of Jorge Cantu’s 8th inning 2-run homer and the Halos came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th trailing 5-4.
Enter: the kids.
Rookie second baseman Darwin Perez lead off the inning with a ground ball single before moving over to third on a long base hit by Bourjos. Minor league sensation Cole Kalhoun followed up with an RBI single tying the game at 5 and setting the stage for the most unlikely of heroes.
20-year-old Randal Grichuk stepped up to the plate having gone just 1-for-4 so far in Spring Training, but he was ready to make an impact. The young right fielder knocked a first pitch fastball through the left side to score Kalhoun on a walk-off single.
Other highlights included a stolen base by Wells in the 2nd and a pinch hit appearance by none other than Matthew Scioscia.
Final: LAA 6, TEX 5 (W – Berg, L – Kirkman)
I had a great time on my Spring Training Road Trip. The stadiums were amazing, the fans were great, and the players look ready for the season to start. If you have the chance to make it out to Arizona this weekend for the final games of Cactus League play, I highly recommend you take the trip. There’s nothing quite like baseball in the valley of the sun!