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Angels quietly restocking after pitching losses

Angels quietly restocking after pitching losses

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) With three-fifths of their starting rotation gone, the Los Angeles Angels have been busy plugging holes and upgrading a bullpen that routinely surrendered leads last season.

They introduced new pitchers Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson on Wednesday, along with relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson - both of whom are coming off surgery.

General manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels' staff is deeper than it was last season, despite the losses of starters Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Greinke moved up the freeway to join the rival Dodgers in a $147 million, six-year deal that left Dipoto defending Blanton, who has not been higher than the fifth starter in recent years. He signed for $15 million and two years.

``What Joe represents to us is stability and a winning player. We need it,'' Dipoto said. ``We'll let time tell how impactful he can be on this club. Joe fit our needs and did it in a way we wanted to create depth.''

Last year, the Angels created a splash by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in the offseason. This year, their aim was much more modest.

``Our goal was to create 1 through 12 pitching depth,'' Dipoto said. ``I don't feel like anything else is imminent and anything else is required.''

Blanton will earn $6.5 million next season and $7.5 million in 2014. The Angels hold a club option for $8 million in 2015 with a $1 million buyout. His contract includes performance bonuses of $100,000 for 180 innings, and $200,000 each for 190 and 200 innings. It also includes award bonuses for making the All-Star team ($50,000), winning the Cy Young Award ($150,000), winning a Gold Glove ($75,000), being MVP of the league championship series ($75,000) and being World Series MVP ($100,000).

The 32-year-old right-hander was 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA last season and a career-best 166 strikeouts in 31 games split between Philadelphia and the Dodgers. Blanton pitched in the postseason in five of the last seven years and was on Philadelphia's 2008 World Series championship team.

``All I care about is winning and hopefully going to a World Series,'' he said. ``I know what I can do. If there's four guys on staff better than me I'm not unhappy because that means we're good.''

The Angels acquired right-hander Hanson from Atlanta for reliever Jordan Walden. He and Blanton will fill the starting spots of Santana, who was traded to Kansas City, and Haren, who signed with Washington as a free agent. The Angels pursued Greinke, but he said Tuesday that the Dodgers and Texas were the teams in the hunt until the very end.

``Zack is a Dodger and we wish him well,'' Dipoto said. ``We're going to focus on our needs and put ourselves in the best position to win.''

Hanson and Blanton will join a rotation anchored by Jered Weaver and Wilson, who is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow.

``Our rotation has an element of experience that is going to be important,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. ``These are two great guys (Weaver and Wilson) to work off of. These guys are all going to pitch to a certain point in the game. We'll hold leads much better than last season.''

The Angels upgraded their bullpen with the additions of free agents Madson and Burnett joining Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs. Burnett signed for $8 million and two years, getting a $250,000 signing bonus.

The 30-year-old left-hander made 70 relief appearances for the NL East champion Washington Nationals last season, with a 1-2 record, two saves and a 2.38 ERA. He had 57 strikeouts.

Burnett will earn $3.5 million next season, $3.75 million in 2014 and the Angels hold a $4.5 million club option for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout. The option becomes guaranteed if Burnett has 110 games pitched in 2013-14 and he doesn't spent time on the disabled list in 2014 because of a left arm injury.

Burnett had bone spurs in his elbow that affected him late in the season. He underwent surgery after the playoffs.

``My elbow is fine,'' he said. ``I've thrown four or five times in the last few weeks. It feels better and looser. I'll be ready for spring training.''

Burnett's contract includes performance bonuses for 2013 and 2014 of $100,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 games pitched, and $125,000 for 60 games pitched.

His contract includes award bonuses of $50,000 for making the All-Star team, $75,000 for a Gold Glove, $75,000 for being named league championship series MVP, $100,000 for World Series MVP honors, and $150,000 for earning the Rolaids Relief award.

Madson is coming back from elbow ligament-replacement surgery.

``I'm either on pace or a little ahead in rehab. I feel confident come April I'll be 100 percent,'' he said. ``I feel like I can throw hard but that ligament isn't ready. It needs to become pliable, so just patience with it.''

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AP Sports Writer Ron Blum in New York contributed to this report.

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Astros wade through first boo-filled night of many to come

Astros wade through first boo-filled night of many to come

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The only agreed upon factor of Saturday night’s spring training opener was affinity for Dusty Baker. 

Baker, alone at home plate to receive a ceremonial first pitch, raised his hand to the crowd when announced. Both sides cheered. Those in red stood, some shouted his name. Others on the Houston side could unabashedly applaud Baker. He represented what’s next, not what was.

But the past chased the Astros from the second the ballpark opened. Any Houston highlights were followed by hefty boos. “FOR THE H” flashed on the right-center field video board during the evening on what was supposed to be an Astros “home” game. However, there was nothing warm and fuzzy about the location for the Astros, an experience sure to track them outside of Houston throughout the season.

The Astros were booed en masse since Baker did not play any of his regulars. Myles Straw, Jeremy Pena and Taylor Jones began the game against Max Scherzer. It’s difficult to let Nos. 3, 89 and 79, respectively, have it on the first night of spring training. But, those on the team in 2017 remained safely in the dugout, prompting an expansion of targets.

Before Scherzer began his night, the Astros’ mascot, Orbit, ran across the face of the Washington dugout with an oversized Houston flag. He, too, was booed -- with fervor. Anything representing the Astros was in play since their main facets were not on the field.

Two signs carried by Nationals fans were taken by a ballpark employee. Some Washington fans banged on their seats during the game to mimic the Astros’ prior method for stealing signs. Scherzer thought something colorful had a chance to leak into the setting.

“I figured something like that was going to happen,” Scherzer said. “I got a good taste of what it’s like [when] facing [Bryce Harper] last year when we had our whole crowd going. I thought our fans would boo. I didn’t realize it was going to be that loud when I face Harp. That was a playoff atmosphere. Everything gets turned up a notch when the fans get into it.”

Scherzer threw 22 pitches, 13 for strikes in two innings. He allowed a single and struck out two batters he’s unlikely to ever face again. Otherwise, he was nonplussed to face the Astros in a game rain forced to pause, then stop, after two innings and a head-scratching delay.

“We won the World Series,” Scherzer said. “It wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me, over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Baker thought the reception went as expected.

“There were a lot of Nationals fans here,” Baker said. “We had a lot of fans here, too. You could tell who was for us and who was against us. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. You kind of expect to get some. But they weren’t too bad, though.”

So, the night ultimately served as the expected start. Scherzer pitched well. The Astros were booed.

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Astros booed, fans' signs taken in spring training opener against Nationals

Astros booed, fans' signs taken in spring training opener against Nationals

As if this week hadn’t already been bad enough for the Houston Astros, it got a bit worse on Saturday afternoon when they faced the Washington Nationals in the spring training opener. 

The Astros took the field at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and were welcomed by the fans with an eruption of boos. The two teams share the facility, but it was Houston's home game. 

Since 2017 Washington and Houston have shared their spring training facility in West Palm Beach and made it a tradition to kick off their respective Grapefruit League schedules against each other. They will play six times this spring - though Saturday's opener was postponed by rain after a scoreless two innings. 

One courageous fan really got into the act, holding up a sign reading "Houston *'s" that was eventually confiscated by ballpark personnel, according to the Associated Press.

If this start is any indication of what they will face throughout this season, it's going to be a long 2020 for the Astros. 

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