Kotchman returns to Angels' lineup

Rested Kotchman returns to Angels' lineup

ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite reassurances that Casey Kotchman was "fine" and that Angels manager Mike Scioscia wanted to "play it safe" on Wednesday, it was still a relief for a squad plagued by injuries to see its regular first baseman back in the lineup following Thursday's off-day.

Kotchman, who felt minor pain in his groin rounding the bases during Tuesday's game, was given Wednesday off, and he reiterated prior to Friday's game that it was a precautionary measure.

"I could have played," Kotchman said, shrugging off any lingering doubts. "I'm fine."

Although Kotchman was back, it wasn't without a slight lineup shuffle. Kotchman took over the No. 6 slot, even though Scioscia said on Wednesday that if Kotchman had played, he would have been inserted in the cleanup slot.

The skipper said that the move to bat Garret Anderson fourth was something the club had been thinking of doing, and now was a good time considering the left fielder's recent offensive production.

"Garrett is a guy [who], big picture, we want in the middle of the lineup," Scioscia said. "It deepens our lineup."

Entering Friday's game against the Rays, Anderson had homered in each of the last three games, and he drove in eight of the Angels' 13 runs in the previous series, at Kansas City.

The skipper also noted that batting sixth was by no means a demotion, as Kotchman ranks among the top five in the American League in average (.333) and slugging percentage (.542).

By following Anderson and Torii Hunter, Kotchman should have plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position and make the Angels' bats even more of a threat to opposing pitchers.

But Kotchman's return wasn't the only good news for the Halos on Friday, as ace John Lackey made what is expected to be his final rehab start for Class A Rancho Cucamonga in Arizona. The right-hander tossed six innings and 88 pitches in a simulated game, and was reportedly able to maintain his "stuff" the entire way.

"We're very excited about where his workout was today," Scioscia said.

An All-Star in 2007, Lackey began the season on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right triceps. He finished last season third in the American League Cy Young Award voting and had an AL-leading 3.01 ERA.

The addition of the ace would certainly bolster an Angels rotation that already has seen remarkable production from Ervin Santana (6-0, 2.02 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6-0, 2.61 ERA).

Unfortunately, though, the report wasn't as bright for the rest of the battered Angels. After going 3-for-3 with two home runs on Tuesday in his second rehab game, Howie Kendrick reported stiffness in his left hamstring and has not played since.

Kendrick was placed on the DL on April 19 (retroactive to April 14) with a hamstring strain and will continue to rest and be evaluated.

Scioscia acknowledged that the second baseman is "not quite where he needs to be" and called the delayed return the result of the "unpredictable nature of a hamstring injury."

Kendrick was batting .500 in 36 at-bats prior to being injured.

Another return in question is that of Chone Figgins, who also has been nagged with a mild strain in his right hamstring. Figgins took batting practice on the field prior to Friday's game for the first time in nearly a week, and the switch-hitter said that he did not feel the injury when hitting from the right side of the plate.

Although the hamstring is strained, Figgins said the effect is felt more on the side of his leg and that the injury is "getting better."

The speedy third baseman also did some light running and stretching on Friday, and Scioscia hinted that the club would make a decision soon as to whether Figgins' "day-to-day" status will become a 15-day stay on the disabled list.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.