Notes: Napoli maintaining approach

Notes: Napoli maintaining approach

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When you hit just .164 after the All-Star break in your rookie season, it's usually cause for concern.

But in the case of Angels catcher Mike Napoli, it's not as much as you might think.

"The first thing he needs to do is handle the job behind the plate," said manager Mike Scioscia.

The fact that Napoli hit 16 homers in 99 games eases concerns, as well. Although Napoli hit just .228 last season, Scioscia is quick to say he looks at different numbers.

"He was just fine offensively last year even if his average didn't set the world on fire," said the manager. "The bottom line is runs scored and driving runs in, and he was terrific in those areas."

"Of course I worry about my average," said Napoli, "but I'm not changing anything. I just try to have a good approach, and put a good swing on the ball. I like to be aggressive, and I think those kinds of things will take care of themselves."

After his second half last year, Napoli decided to take a break from baseball.

"No winter ball, no [Arizona] Fall League like I had in the past," said Napoli. "I just took some time off. I needed to mentally get away from the game for a bit."

Napoli instead concentrated on getting himself stronger for his first full season in the big leagues.

"I just worked out to get my body in the best shape I could for the season," said the catcher, who shed 15 pounds of body fat while adding some muscle.

Process of preparation: While he didn't take as much time off after the season as Napoli, Orlando Cabrera is still taking the slow and deliberate approach to getting ready for Opening Day.

"My experience helps me determine what I need to do each day," said the shortstop, who surprised the club by playing some winter ball this offseason. "You need to be careful not to work too hard too early in camp and overdo it, like lifting too many weights. It's a process. You want to make sure you peak at the right time, and I'm planning on doing that so that it happens maybe five days before the opener."

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Salmon returns: Tim Salmon made his return to the field in an Angels uniform on Wednesday, but it's not what you think. Salmon put on his old No. 15 jersey and came out to coach first base in the bottom of the seventh. Salmon, who lives in the Tempe area, has been making appearances at camp helping out the Angels' coaching staff.

Escobar progressing: Kelvim Escobar pitched 3 1/3 shutout innings on Wednesday, but perhaps more importantly, he reported that the left knee tendinitis that bothered him earlier in camp is not a big issue.

"I've always had problems with my landing, but I'm working on my mechanics, " said the right-hander. "Sometimes it doesn't feel natural, but it's a learning experience.

"I feel strong right now. I'm right where I need to be at this point. I just need to be a little more consistent with my mechanics."

In the hunt: A new name has been thrusted into the mix for the final bullpen spot. Pedro Liriano, who was actually once a prospect in the Angels' system before being traded to the Brewers for Alex Ochoa in 2002, has been impressive since being signed as a Minor League free agent.

"We're going to look at him closely," said Scioscia. "He threw well in winter ball and he's throwing well now. In fact, our guys say he's throwing as well as they've ever seen him throw."

Scioscia added that Liriano, who was released by the Phillies in December, fits the profile of a pitcher that can go multiple innings, which the team may be looking for in choosing the final member of the pitching staff.

Team loyalty: With a big NBA tilt between the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns taking place Wednesday evening, both John Lackey and Joe Saunders showed their loyalties. Saunders wore a Steve Nash Suns jersey into the clubhouse, while Lackey sported a Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks T-shirt. The rest of the team had fun hanging the clothing at various places around the clubhouse, with both shirts eventually ending up dangling from a ceiling vent.

Saunders received a little bit of grief for supporting the Suns because he's a Virginia native, but the southpaw was quick to point out he now makes his offseason home in Arizona.

Up next: The Angels will head to Maryvale to play the Brewers on Thursday afternoon. Ervin Santana, who battled a stiff neck in his last start, but said he's close to where he wants to be, will take the hill for the Halos against Milwaukee's Jeff Suppan. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PT.

Jason Grey is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.