SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the last eight years, the Angels deployed Maicer Izturis mainly as their backup infielder.
In 2013, it could be his lifelong friend.
Luis Rodriguez, signed to a Minor League contract over the winter, grew up a couple hours away from Izturis in Venezuela. But starting at age 11, they annually played against one another in the same league. When they turned pro, they suited up for the same winter ball club. And to this day, with Izturis now with the Blue Jays, they constantly text each other.
When the Angels approached Rodriguez in mid-December, shortly after losing infielder Angel Sanchez to the White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft, Izturis was one of the first people he called.
"We always stay in touch," Rodriguez said in Spanish, "and before signing with the team, I talked to him and asked him how the team was, how the atmosphere was, and he always spoke well about the team and the organization. He's happy that I'm here."
Rodriguez -- a 32-year-old switch-hitter who can handle second base, third base and shortstop and has compiled more than 1,100 plate appearances in the Majors -- is probably a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster, with Andrew Romine homegrown and already on the 40-man.
But Rodriguez's contract allows him to opt out if he isn't in the Majors by June 1, and with a .450 batting average (9-for-20) in 10 Cactus League games, he's doing his best to make it a tough decision.
"He gives you a tough at-bat," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's really what he's about."
Rodriguez has posted a .238/.314/.324 slash line in 407 career Major League games, and spent 2012 playing for the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate, batting .296 with a .389 on-base percentage and 12 homers in 102 games.
He was shocked to never get a callup last season, and he knows he has to keep hitting to get that chance with the Angels.
"They've seen me play and everything," Rodriguez said, "but I need to show them I can hit."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.