TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chris Iannetta had the opportunity to honor his heritage and play for Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
And the Angels catcher, then with the Colorado Rockies, was about to do it, only to get a call from Team USA to serve as co-starter when Joe Mauer got hurt. He opted for that instead. He wasn't eligible for this year's WBC because of the time he spent on the disabled list in 2012.
But he is still watching the upstart 2013 Italian team with interest and pride.
"They've been playing really well," said Iannetta, who identifies his Italian-American heritage. "It's fun to watch."
Iannetta's parents, Maria and Domenic, both moved from villages near Naples to the East Coast as children. Chris was raised in Rhode Island, but plenty of his relatives still live in Italy.
He said none of them were paying much attention to this year's Classic, despite the Italians' back-to-back victories over Mexico and Canada to start pool play.
"It's definitely a soccer country," Iannetta said.
Iannetta's highest priority this spring is developing relationships with the Angels' three new starting pitchers: Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton.
He has embraced the challenge.
"Some people, you click right away," Iannetta said. "Others, it's a little more work."
Vargas, who formed a battery with Iannetta on Saturday, said the two still need more work together.
"It would be unfair to say that we're on the same page or we both know exactly what we want to do," Vargas said. "That builds over time. There's a little idea, but the experience of being out on the field together is what really brings the relationship together."
Eight of the nine players in the Angels' lineup against Colorado are expected to be regulars in 2013.
The other? Andrew Romine, subbing in at shortstop for Erick Aybar, who's in Puerto Rico with the Dominican Republic WBC team.
Romine, 27, is likely to make the 25-man roster as a utility infielder. He led the Angels in spring at-bats entering Saturday -- partly because of his versatility and Aybar's absence.
He's thankful for the opportunity.
"It's kind of a win-win, because he gets to play and get at-bats with them," Romine said. "It helps everybody out."
In 10 games, Romine is hitting .261 (6 for 23) with two walks.
Albert Pujols launched his first big fly of the spring in just his second game Saturday, but he brushed aside any talk that it meant he felt ready to start the season.
"I hit seven home runs last spring and I had my worst start of the season," Pujols said. "You obviously always want to have a good spring training, but as long as you get your work, that's the most important thing."
Hitting third as the DH, Pujols pulled a 2-0 splitter from Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio over the left-field fence at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
In his other two at-bats, Pujols grounded into a double play and struck out swinging. After exiting in the seventh inning, he did baserunning exercises on the minor league fields to complete his workout.
Pujols, recovering from offseason knee surgery, is not expected to play today against Kansas City and doesn't yet have a target date to return to playing defense. He said his hitting was still leaving quite a bit to be desired.
"My timing's not there," he said. "It'll take about a couple more weeks."
LHP Sean Burnett plans to throw a simulated game today and, if all goes well, will make his first appearance of the spring Wednesday against San Diego. He's been nursing a stiff back since lifting his 4-year-old son into a shopping cart last month. ... Angels manager Mike Scioscia was not with the team while attending a family funeral in Pennsylvaniay. He is expected back today. Bench coach Rob Picciolo led the squad. ... Picciolo said outfielders Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton will likely make the trip to Surprise, Ariz., to face the Royals on Sunday.
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