Decisions loom for Angels' bench, bullpen

Decisions loom for Angels' bench, bullpen

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With five days left before Opening Day rosters need to be set, here's what is pretty much certain about where the Angels stand with their bullpen and bench:

• Lefties Sean Burnett (recovery from August forearm surgery) and Brian Moran (left elbow inflammation) are expected to start the season on the disabled list. But Dane De La Rosa (right forearm strain) still has a chance to be ready by the Angels' first game next Monday.

• The Angels aren't expected to start the season with an eight-man bullpen, manager Mike Scioscia said Monday morning. Ernesto Frieri, Joe Smith and Kevin Jepsen have solidified spots, which leaves three or four open spots for the seven-man 'pen.

• Two of four spots on the bench seem set. Hank Conger will be the backup catcher, though Scioscia said he'll still get plenty of playing time, and John McDonald, who must be paid $100,000 to be kept off the 40-man roster as of Tuesday, looks like a lock to be the utility infielder.

The other two spots are still tough to decipher.

"There are so many combinations that we're looking at right now," Scioscia said. "Obviously we're going to need a versatile infielder; your second catcher will be on the bench. And how those other bats fall in will be something that we're going to determine this week."

The Angels could pair the right-handed bat of outfielder Collin Cowgill with the left-handed bat of infielder Ian Stewart, or the left-handed bat of outfielder J.B. Shuck with the right-handed bat of infielder Grant Green, or go with two backup outfielders in Cowgill and Shuck.

Left-handed-hitting outfielders Brennan Boesch (can opt out of his Minor League deal for an immediate Major League opportunity by Sunday) and Matt Long (batting .432 in 44 Cactus League at-bats) also remain in camp.

But Cowgill vs. Shuck looks like the most intriguing decision of all.

Both are clearly ahead in the outfield pecking order, and it's unlikely that the Angels carry two outfielders off their bench, considering they practically have four in their starting lineup.

"Cowgill has more ability to play center field and fill in in right field, but offensively they are comparable," Scioscia said. "One is going to give you a right-handed bat with some protection against lefties and one is a left-handed bat that gives you some protection against righties and helps you get a matchup, too."

Five relievers remain in camp. Four are right-handed (Michael Kohn, Fernando Salas, Brandon Lyon and Cory Rasmus) and one is left-handed (Nick Maronde). The Angels could also opt to go with one of either Joe Blanton, Matt Shoemaker or Jose Alvarez, so that they have at least one reliever who can pitch multiple innings.

But with the Angels off in seven of their first eight Thursdays, length out of a reliever isn't much of a priority.

And an all-righty bullpen is still a possibility.

"Were not going to just take a lefty to take a lefty," Scioscia said. "We're going to take a lefty that is functional that helps us get a lefty out and hold a lead. If that emerges, great. If it doesn't, we'll see where our bullpen is."

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.