Friday February 15, 2013

JANIE McCAULEY

AP Baseball Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jered Weaver has no idea how he would pitch to the Los Angeles Angels’ loaded lineup featuring Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.

Not his problem. For that, he is thankful.

Weaver will get to watch the Angels’ big boppers do their thing each day. And he pities the rest of the American League’s pitching staffs for having to face this slugging crew.

"I don’t have to worry about it, so that’s a plus for me," Weaver said Thursday with a smile. "There’s a lot of potent pieces in this puzzle, in this lineup. I feel sorry for opposing pitchers. We’re pretty good 1 through 9. You get to not only the top of the lineup but the middle of the lineup and there are still some guys who can hurt you."

The Angels will hold their first full-squad workout Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium with the three stars together at last. Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, received a $125 million, five-year contract in mid-December, a year after Pujols’ $240 million, 10-year deal.

Manager Mike Scioscia insists he’s not getting too excited until everybody is healthy and in the lineup opening day, which still feels way off.

Scioscia realizes with his roster, there’s no avoiding the constant attention that will be on his club in Orange County considering the high-profile moves and a lineup of stars.

"It’s going to be good to get them in the clubhouse," he said before the pitchers and catchers worked out Thursday. "I think we’re excited about getting that whole group in here tomorrow and getting started. We know what we need to accomplish in the spring and we’re going to focus on that, and from there we’re going to look toward opening day once we get through spring. And I think that’s when it will hit. Hopefully, you get through spring in one piece and get guys where they need to be and you can watch that lineup play that day and hopefully for a long time from there."

Scioscia has thought about lineups with Hamilton batting second but plans to go with Pujols in the No. 3 slot and Hamilton cleanup to best take advantage of Pujols’ on-base percentage.

"Right now to try and lengthen our lineup out to where we want to be, it makes more sense to have him in the cleanup spot and we’ll adjust as our offense evolves, if we have to," Scioscia said.

The Angles are in a must-win now mode after an 89-73 season in 2012 for a third-place finish in the AL West and a third straight year out of the playoffs.

"There’s been some big expectations the past couple years," said Weaver, coming off a career-best 20-5 season. "It’s always exciting to start spring up and get to know the new people we get. It always looks good on paper when you start it up. You never know how the season’s going to turn out. Nobody’s got a crystal ball. ... They always say, ‘There’s always next year,’ and next year is here."

The Angels are counting on the addition of Hamilton to get them off to a fast start after beginning 6-14 last spring and then going through a 5-13 funk in the first 19 days of August.

Hamilton fills an outfield void left by the departure of clubhouse leader Torii Hunter.

"Josh was a little streaky last year, but still the numbers are there and that threat’s there and that production is there," Scioscia said. "And that’s going to be huge for us."

Pujols certainly will be looking to boost his April numbers.

He batted .190 with no homers in April last year, then finished with a .285 average with 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs. Trout, meanwhile, produced of the most impressive rookie seasons ever. He led the AL in runs (129) and stolen bases (49), hit 30 homers with 83 RBIs and finished second in the batting race at .326 behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

If all goes as Scioscia envisions it, Pujols and Hamilton will provide the kind of middle-of-the-order punch the Tigers have in Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

"We hope, much along the lines of what you saw with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, those two guys in the middle of the order fed off each other and really formed an incredible middle of the lineup," Scioscia said. "And I think we have the potential to do that with Josh and Albert. I do think those guys are going to get comfortable, feed off each other and be productive."