Izturis has more than utility value

Izturis has more than utility value

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia is hesitant to call Maicer Izturis a utility player despite the fact the slick-fielding infielder can play second base, shortstop and third base at a high level defensively.

Instead, Scioscia likes to call Izturis "versatile," because with the ability to spell regulars all over the infield while also contributing with his bat at just about any spot in the lineup, he's such an integral part of the club.

"Izzy isn't really a utility guy, because he's a guy who got a lot of at-bats last year and we expect him to get a lot this year," Scioscia said. "If you're getting 400-to-500 plate appearances, [you're] more than a utility player. He's a versatile player."

Last season, Izturis was a major part of the club's success when he played 68 games at second base, 28 games at shortstop and five games at third base while batting .300 with a .359 on-base percentage and .434 slugging percentage.

The switch-hitter also drove in a career-high 65 runs, scored a career-high 74 runs and stole 13 bases while striking out just 41 times in 417 plate appearances.

But Izturis, who is leading all Angels regulars in batting average this spring, wants to get even better at working counts to see more pitches, as he saw 3.82 pitches per plate appearances last season -- close to the league average of 3.84.

"I'm trying to work counts and take some pitches," Izturis said. "I just try to get on base and work the count. The key is to get on base."

Izturis' ability to get on base along with his situational hitting -- he's a career .327 hitter with runners in scoring position -- has allowed him to bat at every spot in the lineup during his career except cleanup.

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"It doesn't matter where I bat because I don't change my situation at the plate," Izturis said. "No matter where I bat, I don't try to change my game."

And then there's Izturis' defense. He's strong defensively at shortstop, third base and second base, and he's even played some outfield in his six-year career.

Izturis thinks he's able to be so versatile because he's a natural shortstop -- the toughest position to play defensively outside of catcher -- and that's where he spent the bulk of his time as a Minor Leaguer.

"I'm a natural shortstop, but I'm comfortable at third base and second base," Izturis said. "I played a lot last year, so I've been trying to work hard on it this spring. But when I'm out there, I don't like to think too much. I just like to play."

Izturis' approach has certainly paid off. He was rewarded this offseason with a three-year extension worth $10 million that will keep him with the club through 2012. Izturis couldn't be any happier with the deal. He loves playing with the Angels, who took a chance on him when he was acquired from the Expos along with Juan Rivera in exchange for Jose Guillen in '04.

"I'm so happy," Izturis said. "They gave me the opportunity to play and I love it here. I just love the city and the fans, so it's important to me."

And while it's important for him to remain with the Halos, he's just as important to the club.

"He's certainly got the ability to play every day in the right situation," Scioscia said. "I don't know if I ever played with anyone like him."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.