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April 24, 2009 at 6:18 PM

Kelvim Escobar: Angels have to “hang on” against Mariners another month

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A look above at Ken Griffey Jr., clowning around with a Japanese television crew before tonight’s game. Griffey was yelling out to Kenji Johjima, “Hey, Kenji! You’re on TV!” as the latter stood in the field.
I spoke to Johjima earlier today and he told me he needs one more week before he returns from that hamstring injury. Johjima took batting practice today for the first time and felt OK. He also did some squatting, catching and blocking of balls in the dirt.
“It hurt a little bit when I had to extend too much,” he said, in English, without an interpreter present. “So, I have to be careful. I have to take it slow.”
That’s why he doesn’t expect to be back until May 1, even though he’s eligible to come off the DL before that.
Speaking of coming off the DL, I had a pre-game chat with Kelvim Escobar of the Angels, one of three top Los Angeles starters sidelined by injury — along with John Lackey and Ervin Santana. Escobar was supposed to be ready to pitch by the end of this month. But after some inflammation in his shoulder this spring, that was pushed back.
“They told me my arm was fatigued,” he said. “That’s why we pushed it back for a while.”
Escobar, of course, missed all of 2008 with arm problems after hanging in the Cy Young Award race through most of 2007 before being slowed by injury. He will throw a bullpen session tomorrow and then, if all goes well, he expects to spend most of May on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
“After that, we’re looking last week of May, probably June 1, to be back up here,” he told me.
Escobar and I go way back, to when I covered him in 1998 when he was first breaking into the majors. He’s forthright and brutally honest at times. And he knows the Angels face a huge challenge.
“Right now, we just have to hang on,” he said. “We have to hang on until everybody’s ready to come back.”
And not just Lackey and Santana, who both are still in extended spring training and likely won’t be off their own minor league rehabs until roughly the same time as Escobar. Darren Oliver, who shut the Mariners down so well in their home opener 10 days ago, is also on the DL. The Angels are still reeling from the death of Nick Adenhart, and will have another youngster named Anthony Ortega making his major league debut tomorrow night.
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“Can you believe all this?” Escobar said to me, shaking his head. “We just have to try to hang on, stay close. This team over there (the Mariners), I think they’re a good team. I think they’re going to be right there. We have to stay close to them now.”
The Mariners, of course, have had their own injury problems. We mentioned Johjima off the top. Russell Branyan is back in there today, but manager Don Wakamatsu wanted one more look at him swinging in BP today to see how he felt.
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Ronny Cedeno is also still a little sore.
“We’ll see how he feels in batting practice,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ll probably use him in an emergency only. We could probably use him on defense but he wouldn’t be running very well.”
Wakamatsu was asked how much of a factor the early cold weather in Seattle might have been in the early season muscle spasms and pulls.
“I think so, yeah,” he said. “The body reacts a little tighter in general. You cool off a lot quicker.”
I asked Wakamatsu whether he’d have shown this much patience with his lineup if he hadn’t had his hands tied by all the injuries.
“I’m not one of these guys that totally flips it,” he said. “I think there’s certain cases where I might take pressure off of certain guys, but I don’t think I was at that point yet. We’ll see how this series goes and as we go forward we’ll make adjustments off of it.”
I asked him how much time he likes to give guys to find their true hitting levels.
“I think a lot of it has to do with whether you’re winning or losing and the pressure that’s put on that,” he said. “Whether it’s self imposed or whether it’s public. What I try to do is weather the storm and say to them ‘Hey, I believe in you’. And that’s what we’ve talked about, not giving up on guys too early.”
In other words, the more the M’s win, the more time they buy themselves to get things right.



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