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Notes: Escobar ready to get started

Notes: Escobar ready to put rehab behind him

ANAHEIM -- Kelvim Escobar spent more time with the trainer last year than he did with a baseball in his hand, and doesn't try to hide the fact that he quickly grew tired of seeing so much of the Angels' medical staff.

"It was hard going to the ballpark every day and being in the training room," Escobar said. "I hate the training room. I don't like to go in there.

"You have to do it, but I'm glad everything feels fine."

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After elbow injuries limited him to 59 2/3 innings last year, the Angels' No. 4 starter said he is fully healthy and looking forward to a better season in 2006.

Escobar won 11 games in his first season with the Angels in 2004 and entered last spring with high expectations, but he landed on the disabled list three times and eventually underwent surgery on June 29 to shave down bone spurs in his right elbow. Before the surgery, he endured nearly constant uncertainty about whether his arm would recover with therapy or he would have to shut down his season.

Escobar eventually returned in September, but, with rookie Ervin Santana having established himself in the starting rotation, was pushed into the bullpen. It was soon clear that the post-surgery Escobar was as good as new, as he posted a 1-0 record and a 1.89 ERA in 19 regular-season innings. He was just as effective in the postseason.

"That was a good thing, because I pitched a lot coming off surgery," Escobar said. "I showed them that I was back healthy and told myself that, too."

He continued his progress by going 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings this spring. Escobar is expected to start the Angels' home opener against the Yankees on Friday.

"I know that results are not very important in Spring Training," he said. "But if you're working on something and you do it, you're going to get good results. If you're not getting good results, then something's wrong."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia feels one of the biggest strengths of this year's team is its starting rotation, especially considering Escobar and staff ace Bartolo Colon appear healthy to start the season.

"When we came into Spring Training," Scioscia said, "if you had told me our rotation would be where it is now, with the guys we had banged up last year, I would be ecstatic.

"I think Kelvim, from coming off arm surgery to going into the bullpen to reestablishing himself as a starter, it's easier said than done. He's accomplished that."

Cool customer: Casey Kotchman grew up around the game of baseball -- his father, Tom, is a longtime scout and Minor League manager with the Angels -- so he's perhaps a bit better prepared for his first big-league Opening Day than most players. Kotchman, a 23-year-old rookie, will start at first base for the Angels this year, but he doesn't seem fazed by the prospect.

"It's an opportunity to be here and help the club win, so you want to take advantage of the opportunities you get," said Kotchman, the only regular in Sunday's starting lineup against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kotchman was the Angels' top draft pick in 2001 and was ranked by Baseball America as the organization's top prospect in 2002, '04 and '05. After an August callup last season, he hit .278 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 126 at-bats.

Kotchman's performance was convincing enough that the team moved Gold Glover Darin Erstad from first base to center field to clear a spot for him. Still, he said his Spring Training experience was no different, even with a position virtually locked up.

"That doesn't change things," Kotchman said. "You're still trying to do the best you can, whether you have a spot or not."

Fish story: Scioscia said Sunday that Tim Salmon, who will open the season with the Angels after missing all of 2005 due to shoulder and knee surgeries, can expect to be in the lineup as the designated hitter 2-3 times per week. Salmon's health is not such that he can play every day, and the hardest thing about his comeback may be learning to be productive in a limited role.

"There's a difference between playing every day and playing every two weeks," Scioscia said. "I think the medium in between is enough to keep him sharp and fresh."

Figgins OK: Third baseman and leadoff man Chone Figgins is OK after being hit on the right knee by a Chad Billingsley pitch on Saturday, Scioscia said. Figgins stole second on the next pitch Billingsley threw.

Lineup set: Following Sunday's Freeway Series game against the Dodgers, Scioscia announced his Opening Day lineup. Jose Molina will catch instead of rookie Jeff Mathis and Juan Rivera will get the nod at designated hitter over Salmon. The only other notable change is that Garret Anderson will hit third and Vladimir Guerrero will bat cleanup -- the two sluggers switch spots from the usual places they held during Spring Training.

Monday's lineup will be: Figgins at third base, Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, Anderson in left field, Guerrero in right, Rivera at DH, Darin Erstad in center, Casey Kotchman at first base, Molina behind the plate and Adam Kennedy at second base.

On deck: The Angels head to Seattle for Opening Day, facing the Mariners in a 2:05 p.m. PT game on Monday at Safeco Field. Colon will make his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Angels, while veteran lefty Jamie Moyer will start the Mariners' opener for the fourth time.

Greg Ball is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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