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Battered Angels getting better

March 31, 2011 | 12:19 pm

Pineiro_275 The Angels went into Thursday's season opener in Kansas City with three key players -- first baseman Kendrys Morales, reliever Scott Downs and right-hander Joel Pineiro -- on the disabled list. But all three are making progress in their recoveries and could be back sooner than anticipated.

Morales, whose power bat the Angels' desperately need, took grounders at first base for the first time in more than a week and could be sent out for a rehab assignment when the minor-league season begins April 7.

"He still has a progression of running and running 100%," Scioscia said of Morales, who has been sidelined since breaking an ankle last May. "Once he's running 100% and he recovers the next day, he's ready to go play in games. He will definitely be running on this road trip, and then he'll be able to evaluate and see where he is and how far away he is."

Morales, who had a spring training setback, began taking batting practice again four days ago. Scioscia said he believes that Morales will need 30 to 40 minor-league at-bats before he'll be ready to rejoin the Angels. But that prediction is considered overly optimistic, with many predicting that Morales won't be back for six weeks.

Downs, who broke a toe in what was reported to be a household accident earlier this month, has already thrown off a mound but hasn't been medically cleared for other baseball activities, such as fielding. Once that happens he too will make a short minor-league stop before rejoining the Angels bullpen.

"It won't take him long at all. A couple of innings down in the minor leagues, he should be ready," Scioscia said. "He's been away from pitching in game situations for a while."

Pineiro, who had a cramp in the back of his right shoulder, threw 59 pitches in a minor-league game Tuesday and will return to Arizona to pitch again Sunday. With two off days in the season's first eight days, the Angels started the season with a four-man rotation. But Pineiro said that if any of the four games are rained out, forcing a possible makeup game Monday, he believes he could pitch then if needed.

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-- Kevin Baxter in Kansas City

Photo: Joel Pineiro. Credit: Kyle Terada / US Presswire

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