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Maddon: La Russa 'invaluable' in Angels camp

@RhettBollinger
February 20, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels manager Joe Maddon has underscored the importance of having former players in camp, but has also been leaning on a former skipper as well, as Tony La Russa has been at Spring Training in his role as a special advisor to Angels general manager Billy Eppler.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels manager Joe Maddon has underscored the importance of having former players in camp, but has also been leaning on a former skipper as well, as Tony La Russa has been at Spring Training in his role as a special advisor to Angels general manager Billy Eppler.

La Russa, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 after managing for 33 years and winning three World Series titles, was hired this offseason and Maddon has been excited to have him around this spring.

The conversations, man, I just love it,” Maddon said. “Not everybody could throw those kind of nuggets at you. You have to have experience to have those nuggets in your back pocket. And then sometimes I'll say something that he likes and if he regurgitates back to me that he likes it, then of course, I have even more confidence in doing those things. It's invaluable and, really, groups that don't take advantage of that kind of experience, they're definitely missing out on something.”

Maddon said an example was La Russa suggesting a drill he used to utilize during his managing days that the Angels will begin using next week. Maddon wouldn’t say specifically what the drill is, but said La Russa has been active in meetings and isn’t afraid to share his opinion.

“Men like him, former coaches and managers like him, need to be retained,” Maddon said. “These guys are very valuable. Guys like Tony, some old scouts, old coaches who need to be brought back. These guys on a human level relate to players and coaches in a way you can not extrapolate from other methods.”

First baseman Albert Pujols is also excited to have La Russa in camp, as he was his manager for 11 seasons with the Cardinals and the pair won two World Series titles together with St. Louis in 2006 and 2011. Pujols joked that La Russa has already got on him for dropping a ball at first base and that having him around should benefit the front office, the coaching staff and players.

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“Tony is fun,” Pujols said. “It takes me back to our old days. Tony is just a genius. The guy is so smart. Just having Tony is really exciting. The experience, the championships and the things that he can help these young players to take us to the next level is huge. I lived that for 11 years with him, two championships. Hopefully we can accomplish one more here this year.”

No regulars in Cactus League openers
The Angels open Cactus League play with split-squad action on Saturday, hosting the Royals and heading to Glendale to play the White Sox. Maddon will remain back at Tempe Diablo Stadium for the game against Kansas City, but said not to expect any regulars to play in either game. It’s more likely to be players who saw some action in the Majors last year such as Michael Hermosillo, Taylor Ward, Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh.

“It’s going to be pretty sparse,” Maddon said. “It’s not in our best interest. You’ll see some guys who played in the big leagues last year but you’re not going to see the varsity.”

Angels tidbits
• Third baseman Anthony Rendon is expected to return to camp on Saturday after leaving to attend the birth of his second child with his wife, Amanda.

• Second baseman Luis Rengifo had an impressive round of batting practice, showing off power from both sides. He’s also noticeably bigger than last year. Backup catcher Max Stassi also showed surprising power, especially considering he’s coming off right hip surgery.

• Right-hander JC Ramírez, who agreed to a Minor League deal with the Angels on Wednesday, arrived at camp on Thursday. Ramírez gives the Angels more depth and has versatility as both a starter and a reliever. But the Angels will monitor his velocity this spring, as it dipped last year in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.