Angels newly anointed closer Joe Smith is very familiar with the kind of camaraderie that exists in the Indians' bullpen. The sidearmer was a fixture in Cleveland's relief corps for the past five seasons before signing with Los Angeles as a free agent over the offseason.
Come Monday, Smith will be reunited with his former teammates and he will surely expect to take some ribbing. Indians manager Terry Francona already has a prediction for when bullpen coach Kevin Cash and the Tribe's relievers will begin giving their old friend a hard time.
Asked about Smith, Francona immediately began to chuckle.
"The first thing I could think of," Francona said, "is that, when we go to Anaheim [on Monday], and Smitty is walking out to their bullpen -- it's right in front of our bullpen -- is the amount of grief Cashy is probably going to be giving him."
The Indians are hoping Smith will not have the chance to have the last laugh on the mound.
"I don't want him to carve us up," Francona said. "That's saying the obvious."
Smith posted a 2.76 ERA while making 303 appearances with the Indians from 2009-13, and racked up the only three saves of his career last season. He's still waiting for his first of 2014, and hopeful that it'll come against his former team.
"I tell you what, man, that would be nice," Smith said. "Not necessarily against Tito, but just when they come in, hopefully getting that opportunity. Obviously Tito was there for only one year that I was there, and it was awesome. But the other guys I came up with, being there for five years with those guys -- guys like Michael Brantley, [Jason] Kipnis. Even the guys from last year were awesome, like Zach McAllister, [Corey] Kluber. [Justin] Masterson, obviously. He was my locker 'mate. It'll just be good to see those guys. It's going to be fun playing against them."
All kidding aside, Francona is looking forward to seeing Smith, who served as a setup man for the manager last season. Over the offseason, the veteran reliever signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal with the Halos. The Angels also hired Francona's son, Nick, as a coordinator of Major League Baseball player information over the winter.
"I think so much of Smitty," Francona said, "even to the point where I know Smitty's kind of gone out of his way to be good to my son there. Things like that. I just think we all really like Smitty. He shows up every day, he wants the ball. It's just hard not to like him. If you don't like him, you're trying not to. We all loved him.
"I hope he comes in and hangs a breaking ball and somebody hits it a mile, but that doesn't change how I feel about him."
In the opener of the three-game series, Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson will square off against Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs. Both Masterson (two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings against Kansas City on Wednesday) and Skaggs (two runs allowed in seven innings against Washington on Tuesday) turned in solid efforts in their previous outings for their respective clubs.
Early on this season, Masterson has been dealing with diminished velocity on his pitches, especially with his four-seam fastball. The right-hander has still found success in his last two starts, turning in a 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings combined. That is an improvement over the previous two efforts, which included a 10.80 ERA in just 8 1/3 innings.
"I've always believed in the person -- in Masty -- since the day I've met him," Francona said. "I have so much confidence in his ability to win, or to compete. I always believe in him. That's why, maybe [his velocity] been a topic of conversation, but I've never brought it up."
Indians: Asdrubal's splits
The series in Anaheim potentially presents switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with an opportune situation. The Angels are scheduled to start two lefties (Skaggs and C.J. Wilson) in the series. Entering Sunday, Cabrera had hit .324 (12-for-37) with seven extra-base hits against left-handers, but only .140 (7-for-50) with one extra-base hit against righties.
"Right-handed, he really has been pretty solid all year," Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. "He's had a good feel for it, where left-handed he just went through a little spell where he was in a little slump. It's been getting much better left-handed."
Angels: Aybar adjusting
Erick Aybar noticed a change in his stance as he struggled through the onset of the regular season, with a .175 batting average through his first 17 games. The switch-hitting shortstop was crouched too low, particularly from the left side of the plate. Aybar worked on staying more upright and hit .524 (11-for-21) with four extra-base hits and five RBIs in the next five games.
"I'm standing up a little bit more now," Aybar said. "I was crouched down too much, chasing pitches and not able to hit with much power when I do make contact. I've always been more upright, and I just got back to doing that. Hopefully, I can keep this going."
• The Indians head into the series with the Angels with a 3-6 record this season against left-handed starters. As a team, Cleveland was batting .223 with a .301 on-base percentage and .332 slugging percentage against southpaws, entering Sunday.
• The Angels have a 142-126 all-time record against the Indians at Angel Stadium. Cleveland swept a three-game series in Anaheim last season and has won five of its last eight games at the ballpark. The Indians went 4-2 against the Angels in 2013.
• Angels catcher Hank Conger has hit .429 (3-for-7) in his limited experience against Masterson. Cleveland's No. 1 starter has held the hot-hitting Aybar to a .105 average in 23 at-bats. No Tribe batters have faced Skaggs.