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OC Register: For Angels’ Kaleb Cowart and Jared Walsh, pitching and hitting is just like old times


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TEMPE, Ariz. – The first time Jared Walsh became teammates with Kaleb Cowart, they were teenagers playing for the same club team in suburban Atlanta. By age 14, Walsh said, Cowart was already throwing baseballs 92 mph.

“I always thought he was a great hitter,” Walsh said of Cowart, “but not many people could throw a baseball 92 at 14, let alone 25.”

The second time Walsh and Cowart became teammates was a year ago. Walsh was still hitting, playing the field, and occasionally pitching for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. By then Cowart was sporting a verdant beard, but his pitching powers were untapped. He was strictly an infielder, and a light-hitting one at that. Cowart finished the season with a .791 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A and a .451 OPS in the majors. In December, the Angels placed him on waivers.

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Los Angeles Angels second baseman Kaleb Cowart, top, can’t reach the throw from home as Oakland Athletics’ Rajai Davis steals second during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Cowart endured a winter of tumult. He was claimed and later waived by the Mariners, who intended to use him as a two-way player. He was claimed and later waived by the Tigers, who also intended to use him as a two-way player. He and his wife packed up their belongings from the Tigers’ base in Lakeland, Florida and drove home to Georgia – only to be told that Cowart had been claimed by the Angels.

So it was that Cowart and Walsh found themselves in a similar place again. They’re among four two-way players in the Angels’ organization, along with injured star Shohei Ohtani and minor leaguer Bo Way. For now, they’re the only ones plying the two-way trade daily in the Angels’ major league camp.

“That’s what I said to Kaleb: I was glad when he showed up. Now somebody else can be as confused as me on a daily basis,” Walsh said. “That’s not on the organization. That’s on me. You read the sheet and I have to find, am I under the position players label or am I under the pitchers label?

“We’ve had a lot of fun with it. Definitely communicated with each other. We’ve been throwing partners for a few days, too. If our schedules line up, we’re pretty near each other in case something goes haywire, we just figure out where to go from there.”

The organizational vision for each player is slightly different. If Walsh is 85 percent pitcher and 15 percent position player, manager Brad Ausmus said, Cowart is the opposite. Nor are their schedules synchronized.

Saturday, Walsh threw a bullpen and appeared in a Cactus League game. Cowart made his pitching debut in a “B” game that day, facing four batters (pop-up, strikeout, single, walk) in his first game off a mound in nine years. On Sunday, Cowart didn’t convene with the pitchers for a staff meeting. He took batting practice instead, preparation for his first Cactus League game as an infielder Monday.

Walsh’s next major league game will be his first. Cowart is on the Angels’ 40-man roster and, critically, out of option years. The Angels cannot send him to the minors to begin the regular season without risking losing him on waivers again. That uncertainty was real enough that Cowart’s wife stayed behind in Georgia when he reported to camp last week.

“It’s just easier, but that sucks,” he said. “You get married to be together. You don’t get married to be apart.”

In a sense, this camp has been just like old times. The Angels have set Walsh and Cowart free to do what their East Cobb Baseball coaches realized a decade ago: if they’re among the best hitters and pitchers on the team, why not let them do both?

In another sense, this is uncharted territory. In 2018 Ohtani hit and pitched more than any man at the major-league level since Babe Ruth. He pitched as a starter, however. His schedule was predictable as a clock. It also made him one of one. Cowart and Walsh have each other to lean upon.

“We’re setting a trend,” Cowart said. “I think it’s awesome. I really do.”

INJURY UPDATES

Sunday marked Andrew Heaney’s turn in the Angels’ rotation, but the left-hander has been set back due to inflammation in his elbow since his most recent start, last Tuesday against the A’s.

Heaney downplayed the severity of his pain. The Angels were comfortable letting him play long toss and taking part in back-field drills Sunday, throwing from the mound to first and second base. Heaney said he felt “good” afterward. Ausmus said that Heaney might throw a bullpen session Monday.

Infielder Zack Cozart (left calf tightness) was scratched from Sunday’s game and will be re-evaluated Monday morning.

“It’s been tight for a couple days,” Cozart said. “I was out there today, went through the warm-up, felt OK. Then we went through some baserunning stuff and it locked up on me. Just something stupid that happens out there. … There’s no strain or anything. It’s like a bad charley horse, just super locked-up.”

Outfielder Justin Upton (knee) is “still a little ways away” from his Cactus League debut, Ausmus said, “but he’s still on track progression-wise.”

Justin Bour (hamstring) took ground balls at first base on a back field, but will be limited to DH duties in Monday’s game against the White Sox, Ausmus said. Bour is scheduled to start at first base and play three innings Tuesday at home against the Cubs.

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30 minutes ago, Second Base said:

It's funny that they view Walsh as more of a pitcher and an occasional hitter and Cowart the opposite when Walsh is the one that's probably the better hitter and Cowart has more notoriety as a pitcher before joining the professional ranks. 

It’s actually the other way around. That’s a mistake in the story. It’s been fixed. 

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5 minutes ago, Troll Daddy said:

Well my 12 old son is a two-way player ... Pitcher and 1B. I could be wrong you know. 

 

I'm not sure what your 12 year old son has to do with it.  

Just curious.  If a pitcher can get hitters out or a hitter can be productive, why can't that be one person doing both?  

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