Angels shortstops making choice tough

Angels shortstops making choice tough

TEMPE, Ariz. -- They're so intertwined in Angels camp this spring, they might as well answer to Erick Maicer Aybar Izturis.

Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are friends who want the same thing: the shortstop role on manager Mike Scioscia's lineup card.

Aybar and Izturis both have had exceptional Cactus League performances, doing their best to justify the faith management placed in their talents when it shipped Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox in November for starting pitcher Jon Garland.

"It's the first time I've had this opportunity," Izturis, a soft-spoken Venezuelan, said as he sat quietly at his locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "I'm focused. I don't try to do too much. Like last year, I want to be consistent."

Izturis is known as the steadier, more reliable defender, Aybar the more physically gifted, with superior range and a howitzer of an arm. Neither shortstop had committed an error through 22 Cactus League games entering play Thursday.

"They're both playing great baseball right now," Scioscia said. "They're playing other positions, too. We'll wait and see how this plays out and make a decision when the time comes."

That would be March 31, in Minnesota, when the Angels launch their American League West title defense. Izturis, 27, and Aybar, 24, are running so close, Scioscia might need a photo at the finish line to declare a winner.

If there's an edge, it would appear to be found in Izturis' bat.

Aybar, however, has shown unexpected power this spring. His two-run homer against the Giants on Thursday was his third in Cactus League play. He's batting .289 with a .372 on-base percentage and a .632 slugging percentage.

Izturis, appearing in 11 games, was batting .400, slugging .600 and and getting on base at a .471 clip.

Embarking on his fourth season with the Angels after arriving with Juan Rivera from the Nationals in exchange for Jose Guillen following the 2004 season, Izturis has batted .293 and .289 the past two seasons. The Angels had no better clutch hitter in 2008.

In 96 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Izturis batted .406, driving home 46 runs, and is a .340 career hitter with runners at second and/or third. He was so productive he batted fifth for a chunk of the season.

Hainley Statia, five years younger than Izturis, has made a study of Maicer's game and habits as he attempts to move up the organizational ladder at shortstop.

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"You never see him let his frustration out when he strikes out," Statia said. "He knows he's good, so he doesn't overreact.

"He's one guy I get advice from, because he's such a great guy -- and he's always studying the game. I want to be the type of guy he is."

A switch-hitter like Izturis, Statia has made a study of Maicer's approach. Defensively, they're already close to carbon copies.

"He has quick hands, wrists, and a compact stroke," Statia said. "That's why he's such a good line-drive hitter. He stays on top of the ball. He tells me to try to hit the ball with four-seam backspin -- it helps with the line drives.

"He lets the ball get back to him; he stays back, lets the ball come to him. Then he uses his hands and wrists. He doesn't get fooled by the changeup because he lets the ball come to him instead of going after it. That's what I'm trying to get."

Just as Statia is learning from Izturis, Izturis continues to absorb information from big brother Cesar, now with the Cardinals. Cesar Izturis won a Gold Glove at shortstop for the Dodgers in 2004 and was an All-Star selection the following season.

"I talk a lot to him," Maicer Izturis said. "What he tells me is, `Don't try to do too much. Just relax, have fun and play your game. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you can't do it.'

"Last year, with Orlando here, I played a lot of third base and second base. My focus was to do whatever the team wanted me to do. That's what I'm still doing -- playing and having fun."

In 771 1/3 innings last year at three positions, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Izturis committed a total of four errors. He had the club's best fielding percentage at second and third.

"Shortstop is my natural position," he said. "It's what I've always played. Moving around is hard; the ball is coming at you at different speeds. I just prepare for whatever I have to do."

Izturis' studious nature extends beyond the field. Hamstring problems have sent him to the disabled list three times the past two seasons. He missed 38 games with two DL trips in 2007.

One possible cause, he discovered, might have been dehydration.

"I'm drinking a lot more water now, and I think it is helping," he said.

His thirst quenched, Izturis hungers for an everyday job at shortstop.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.