Rivera set career highs for home runs (23), RBIs (85), hits (139), runs (65), and batting average (.310) last season. But when he was lost for the start of the season, rookie outfielder Reggie Willits became a vital contributor and changed the offensive dynamic of a club that became streaky and stagnant at times last season.
Rivera, who went 3-for-5 on Saturday night in his final rehab start at Triple-A Salt Lake, hit .262 (16-for-61) with eight doubles and 17 RBIs in what amounted to Spring Training for him. He is still playing with pins in his leg that he says will be removed in the coming weeks. He said he can still feel pressure on the leg when he runs, but can play though it.
"When [I] run, [I] feel it," he said. "It bothers me a little bit." He estimated himself to be "at about 95 percent."
Manager Mike Scioscia was eager to get his first look, inserting Rivera into the starting lineup in right field and batting him seventh. That allowed Scioscia to rest center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. and take Vladimir Guerrero off his feet and use him as the designated hitter. Willits moved from left to center and Garret Anderson started in left.
"The reports were that in his last 20 at-bats he was feeling good in the box and running well," Scioscia said. "He'll help us in establishing a depth chart again. We're interested to see what Juan looks like. He's been gone for a while."
Rivera swung at the first pitch he saw, grounding into a double-play to end the second inning.
Morales continues to impress: Kendry Morales has made the most of his early opportunity to fill in for first baseman Casey Kotchman. Morales, whose progress became stagnant last year as he became pull-oriented, returned to Anaheim last week and showed that he's trying to make adjustments. He's hitting .441 (15-for-34) since returning, but also started well when he came to the Major Leagues last year.
He'll have to do it for a longer period of time before he can be considered an everyday Major League player, but some signs are there.
"His discipline and approach have been better," Scioscia said. "Experience will hopefully teach you. He has made a lot of strides from when he first signed as a raw player to a more refined player."
Morales has to prove to Scioscia and to the league that he can maintain such production.
"We need to see how the league adjusts to him and vice versa," one American League scout said. "Time will tell."
Kernels from the popcorn machine: Robb Quinlan got a start at first base despite an 0-for-19 slump and a 2-for-27 streak. ... Scioscia is still hopeful that the Angels can get away with not putting Chone Figgins on the disabled list, saying "We think it's down to the short-term rather than two or three weeks." Figgins has been sidelined since Aug. 21. ... Bartolo Colon is expected to make his next rehab start in the Pacific Coast League playoffs Tuesday against Sacramento. ... To make room for Rivera on the 40-man roster, the Angels designated right-hander Greg Jones for assignment.
Up next: The Angels begin a three-game series with the Oakland A's on Monday at Angel Stadium with right-hander Ervin Santana (5-12, 6.38 ERA) opposing right-hander Chad Gaudin (10-9, 4.06 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT.