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Spring Swing: Angels on mission to locate Rally Monkey, playoffs

Big League Stew

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Dan Haren(notes) looked around the smallish rectangular clubhouse, hardly a posh setting by major league settings, and said he liked what he saw and heard from the rest of the Los Angeles Angels.

"In just the two months I was here last year, and now, it seems like a pretty close-knit bunch," Haren said. "Things didn't go the way everyone wanted, and that's not what the Angels are used to. But this is a good group of guys and everyone's excited to be here and turn it around.

"It's pretty loud in here right now," Haren added, raising his voice to be heard among the chatter.

After being seen and heard in the playoffs for three straight seasons, the 2010 Angels finished 80-82 and in third place in the AL West, their worst showing since 2003. And the offseason has been just as disappointing — at least for owner Arte Moreno and GM Tony Reagins — because they missed their big free-agent targets. But they still have plenty of reasons to expect to contend, starting with their starting pitching; guys such as Haren, Jered Weaver(notes) and Ervin Santana(notes).

And they're stacked with familiar names elsewhere, all of whom will be counted on to make noise on the field.

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This is $43 million in salary (for 2011) walking in the rain. Torii Hunter(notes) (pointing), Bobby Abreu(notes) and Vernon Wells(notes) also make up most of the heart of the batting order. Add a healthy Kendry Morales(notes) — and the early signs are mixed — and the Angels have several big-time sluggers.

They also have mysteries and enigmas (such as infielders Brandon Wood(notes), Erick Aybar(notes), Maicer Izturis(notes) and Howie Kendrick(notes)) all over the infield. And who is catching, now that Mike Napoli(notes) is gone?

Everybody seems to like Bobby Wilson(notes) and nobody seems to like Jeff Mathis(notes), but they're both just holding the place of prospect Hank Conger(notes) until he's ready. Conger has nearly 1,000 combined at-bats between Class AA and AAA, which is a lot of experience for a catcher who just turned 23.

Conger hit .300/.385/.463 a season ago, but is less advanced on defense.

"I'm trying to not worry about other things," Conger said, referring to the possibility of him making the team out of spring training. "I'm going to approach it like I did last year: Just try to get better every day, even if it's a little thing."

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• Manager Mike Scioscia said lefty Scott Kazmir(notes) is "throwing the ball with better velocity and less effort, which should theoretically help his command, and we are seeing arm speed that's creating a little better spin on his slider."

• In a move that might hasten Morales' return from a broken leg, the Angels have installed an anti-gravity treadmill that uses a harness and air pressure to allow for walking or running without putting all of one's body weight on the lower extremities.

• Scioscia said if the Angels get anywhere from 90-110 games out of Izturis — who has been a solid contributor when he hasn't been injured — they'll "be very happy."

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Previous Spring Swing stops: Feb. 18 — San Francisco Giants • Feb. 19 — Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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