OAK@LAA: Kohn strikes out a pair in scoreless eighth

TEMPE, Ariz. -- They say the second year post-Tommy John surgery is when pitchers really start to feel good again, and hard-throwing Angels reliever Michael Kohn can certainly vouch for that right now.

"I don't know what the radar readings are," Kohn said, "but the ball feels like it's flying out of my hands."

Kohn had a 3.74 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP and a 1.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings (63 appearances) during his first year removed from Tommy John surgery in 2013. His average fastball velocity was 94.2 mph, almost a full tick higher than what it was in 2011. He pitched on back-to-back days 11 times, appeared in three straight games on four separate occasions. And he never once went on the disabled list.

It was, by most accounts, a success.

But Kohn's numbers also fell off down the stretch, with a 5.40 ERA from Aug. 7 to Sept. 26, and the easy place to go is that Kohn hit that proverbial wall after missing a full season.

"But my arm felt phenomenal," Kohn said. "Phenomenal. I actually wanted to end the season and keep throwing."

That's why the Angels never shut Kohn down, even though they weren't really in the playoff race for the last two months. Kohn wanted to keep throwing aggressive bullpen sessions in October, but the Angels told him to not even look at a baseball in the fall.

So he started throwing later than ever (the day before Christmas) and didn't get off a mound again until mid-January, completing eight bullpen sessions by the time he arrived in camp.

"Now I feel like I'm ready to go," Kohn said. "I still need to get my rhythm and timing back, but my arm feels great."

Kohn's focus this spring is to learn how to consistently throw his breaking ball for strikes, in hopes of evening out his splits. Thanks to his Ernesto Frieri-like tailing fastball, lefties posted only a .589 OPS against the 27-year-old right-hander last season. But righties had an .847 OPS against him.

As Kohn said: "I basically became a righty-lefty specialist."

The point of the breaking ball -- which would be added to the fastball Kohn relies on heavily, plus the changeup he developed late in the year -- is to have a pitch that breaks away from opposing right-handed hitters. It doesn't need to be great. Kohn just needs to prove he can throw it for strikes.

"Because if you look at the dominant relievers in the league who throw mid- to upper-90's -- besides guys like [Craig] Kimbrel who just have ungodly, wipeout secondary pitches -- most of those guys have average secondary stuff," Kohn said. "But they can throw it for a strike. And if you can let a hitter know, 'I don't have a [Clayton] Kershaw bender, but I have a bender I can get for a strike and then come at you with 96, 97,' then they're like, 'OK, he can throw two for strikes.'"

Pitchers ramping up intensity from the start

Gonzalez discusses back-end of Angels' rotation

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There won't be any "easing into Spring Training" for Angels pitchers, per se. Not after posting by far the worst ERA in baseball last spring, and not after a combined 17-32 record over the last two Aprils.

"We're going to push them hard," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said, "and they're ready for it. … They've been prepped since last year on our own expectations of what we want to have here. They've grasped it with open arms, and they're ready to go."

Bullpen sessions, particularly for relievers, were a lot more aggressive in the 14 days of pre-Cactus League workouts, and live batting-practice sessions have been re-introduced after a one-year hiatus.

Each starting pitcher has already completed one "up-down" session of live BP, which is essentially a two-inning simulated game. And when they start taking their turns in actual games -- starting with Jered Weaver against the Cubs on Friday -- they could go as deep as three full innings, rather than the customary one or two.

The point is to get pitchers game-ready earlier, which the Angels hope will translate into a better start to the regular season.

"These guys came in in tremendous shape," Butcher said. "These guys are mentally and physically ready to go out there and do what they're capable of doing. The plan is to go out there and go as deep as we can -- within reason, obviously, and health-wise, as well. But they're going to get out there and they're going to get after it."

Cron could be late-season addition for Angels

Top Prospects: C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ever since first baseman C.J. Cron was taken 17th overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, representing the Angels' most recent first-round pick, the question has always been how he'd ever find a spot on the big league club. The Angels had Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales back then, and shortly thereafter, they signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract.

Now, it seems, there could be a path developing for Cron.

Trumbo and Morales are gone, and if the right-handed slugger has a good year at Triple-A Salt Lake, it's very conceivable to picture him helping the Angels down the stretch in 2014, as a right-handed option at designated hitter and perhaps an occasional fill-in at first base.

"Baseball has a weird way of working itself out usually, so if you play to your capabilities, you'll find a spot somewhere," said Cron, ranked second in the Angels' system by MLB.com in 2013. "With the moves they've made this offseason, it opens the door a little bit. But at the same time, it's not handed to me. I still have to go out there and show them that I can do it. Whenever they think my time is, I'll be ready for it."

As Cron pointed out, this is the first time in three years he hasn't had an offseason of rehab. Two years ago, he was coming off knee surgery. Last year, he was coming off shoulder surgery.

Cron, now 24, struggled at times in his first season of Double-A, posting a .274/.319/.428 slash line with 14 homers and 83 RBIs amid the big parks of the Texas League. But he torched the Arizona Fall League, with a 1.167 OPS in 20 games, and then went right into his first winter ball experience in the Dominican Republic.

"I had a pretty good end of Double-A playoffs, and I kind of wanted to continue what I did there in the Fall League and I thought that everything just seemed to go well for me," Cron said. "I got good pitches to hit, I wasn't missing any good pitches, I was putting good swings on the ball and they were finding holes."

Worth noting

Josh Hamilton, who strained his left calf during a baserunning drill on Tuesday, was temporarily off crutches Thursday morning and said he's "feeling a lot better." The outfielder took some soft toss and threw off one knee, but is still at least two weeks away from resuming full baseball activities.

• Angels manager Mike Scioscia has shed 34 pounds since the end of last season, "But I'm going for 60," he said proudly. Asked if he utilized Hamilton's natural-juice regimen from last year, Scioscia laughed and said: "I'll tell you what, if I am juicing, it had a lot of ground-up meat in it, too."

• Pitching prospect Mark Sappington organized the Angels' annual spring toy drive, a job that used to fall on the young Mike Trout. Sappington raised about $5,000 from Angels players in camp, and seven of his teammates went to a local Toys "R" Us to buy boxes of toys. They'll be distributed to Children's First Academy in Tempe next week.