TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chris Bootcheck is in familiar territory in an unfamiliar role.

He's back in Major League camp with the Angels and fighting for a big-league job, but this time it's as a non-roster invitee.

The right-hander was designated for assignment to Triple-A Salt Lake on Jan. 4 and instead of declining and becoming a free agent with the hope of hooking up with another club for Spring Training, he accepted the Angels' offer with the hope of making a difference in camp.

"I could have declined the assignment; I had that option," Bootcheck said. "And being taken off the roster a month before Spring Training was tough. But staying and trying to win a job made the most sense."

Bootcheck was drafted by the Angels in the first round in 2000 and has been called up in each of the past two seasons. In 2005, he was a starter and posted a 7-4 mark in Salt Lake and an 0-1 record with the Angels that included six innings of one-run ball in Yankee Stadium.

Last year he made seven appearances with the Angels, all in relief, and posted a 10.45 ERA. Bootcheck said it was tough changing roles but added it was tougher to be judged by one performance.

"I felt I had to be perfect to stay," Bootcheck said. "Everyone struggles, but it is tough to wash out a bad outing when you're not getting the chances."

Bootcheck has pitched well in previous springs only to be left out when the Opening Day roster became official. He currently hopes to win the last spot in the bullpen and is competing with Phil Seibel, Chris Resop, Greg Jones and Matt Hensley.

One thing working in his favor is the team is looking for length, and Bootcheck has that experience. Most of all, he said he has to be better with two strikes and is working on his out pitch, a changeup if he's in the rotation and a curveball if he's coming out of the 'pen.

"I know my stuff," Bootcheck said. "I just have to go out and throw strikes and put people away."

Wait and see: A key piece of the Angels who will be missing for most of the upcoming season is Juan Rivera.

The 28-year-old hit 23 homers in 448 at-bats last season and would be the team's primary designated hitter and its fourth outfielder. But Rivera broke his left tibia playing winter ball in Venezuela and is still recovering from surgery to repair the injury. His return to the roster is unknown.

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"It is a long way. I don't think you can even predict he's ahead of schedule now because you don't know where he's going to be, where he's going to be when he puts weight on it," manager Mike Scioscia said. "There are so many hurdles to clear. This is something that will move slowly."

The Angels remain hopeful that Rivera will return this year.

"I haven't heard that scenario," Scioscia said of Rivera missing the entire season. "But this is an extreme injury that needs to heal."

Rehab report: Pitchers Jered Weaver (biceps tendinitis) and Bartolo Colon (recovering from last season's partially torn rotator cuff) played long toss together from about 120 feet. Scioscia said the progress on Weaver was "encouraging."

Outfielder Reggie Willits is nursing a sore wrist.

Field work: The Angels will look to improve team defense, and they believe that Gary Matthews Jr. will provide an upgrade in center, as will identifying a regular first baseman.

Chone Figgins is moving to third base, and Scioscia said he will use a larger glove than he did there before. But a lot of what happened last season when the Angels finished last in the American League in fielding percentage is being seen as an anomaly, and the club is not changing its defensive approach.

"The way we teach fundamentals is the same," Scioscia said. "I'm very comfortable with the system and with what [coach Alfredo Griffin] does with the infielders. We've got some work to do because we're going to have different chemistry in the infield."

Howie Kendrick is taking over at second base, while Casey Kotchman, Kendry Morales, Robb Quinlan and Shea Hillenbrand will compete at first base.

In the house: Matthews and Maicer Izturis reported on Sunday. Matthews arrived with a Texas Rangers bag from his former employers and Scot Shields said: "Get that out of here!" Position players are scheduled to report Monday with the team's first full workout Tuesday.