TUCSON, Ariz. -- If he stays on normal routine throughout March, John Lackey's day to pitch will come up on April 2 -- Opening Night in Anaheim, the Texas Rangers in town.

"I didn't notice," he said, grinning. "If it does happen, it's going to be an honor, something where I'll definitely want to pitch well and prove I deserve that. We've got a good staff, and to get the ball first would be pretty cool."

Having recovered from a strep throat infection that cost him about eight pounds and a lot of sleep, Lackey was in prime-time form on Thursday in his Cactus League debut during the Angels' 10-7 loss to the Diamondbacks at Tucson Electric Park.

Putting third strikes past four of the first five men he faced, and retiring the first seven in succession, Lackey gave up an unearned run and two singles in three innings, striking out five.

Mike Scioscia said he hasn't decided on his Opening Night starter, but Lackey clearly is a leading contender. The manager talks about holding multiple aces, not just one.

"I think he has terrific attributes," Scioscia said. "John can get the strikeout when he needs it. He has endurance. He's an incredible competitor.

"John has the ability to lead and be a lead dog. When Bart [Colon] was in that role, he was lead dog. We need five guys out there like a five-part machine. John's held up his end time in and time out."

A model of consistency and durability, Lackey has won 41 games over the past three seasons, never missing a call to the post since arriving in Anaheim in '02. If he makes his 150th career start on April 2, it would be the second time he's started an opener.

Lackey, the Game 7 starter in Anaheim against San Francisco the night the Angels became World Series champions, drew the distinction of opening the 2003 season with Jarrod Washburn injured.

In his spring debut Thursday, set back by his illness, Lackey made it to nine outs against the Diamondbacks with 44 pitches, one shy of his limit.

"I was locating my fastball, which allowed me to get to other pitches, and I was ahead [in the count] a lot," Lackey said. "My arm felt great. Even the first day I came back, it felt good.

"I've been pretty lucky. I've been working out and staying on it. The last couple years, I've got a lot more work done than when I was young. It's something you've got to do to pile up innings."

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The illness struck Lackey so severely, he wasn't able to drive to see a doctor. He had trouble swallowing, experienced hot-and-cold flashes and "couldn't sleep." He said he's felt better the past few days, regaining about half the pounds he lost.

"I haven't been that sick in years," Lackey said.

Kendrick on fire: Second baseman Howie Kendrick continued his torrid hitting on Thursday, raising his Cactus League average to .467 with a team-high 14 total bases.

Hitting in the No. 3 spot, Kendrick crushed a two-out homer to center against Arizona southpaw Doug Davis in the first inning. In the third, Kendrick smashed an RBI single to center against reliever Matt Elliott following Maicer Izturis' RBI triple.

"He's line-to-line, gap-to-gap, bloopers, gappers, everything," Scioscia said of Kendrick. "This guy can hit. He has terrific bat speed with great hand-eye coordination -- traits for an All-Star caliber hitter to have. This guy's going to be a terrific offensive player."

Kendrick hit .285 in 72 games with the Angels last year after bashing the ball at every stop along the way in reaching Anaheim.

Short hops: Third baseman Matt Brown, who unloaded 19 homers at Double-A Arkansas last season while batting .289, hammered a two-run homer against Arizona right-hander Jailen Peguero. Outfielder Terry Evans banged a 400-foot double to center, while catcher Jose Molina also doubled. ... The fracture in outfielder Juan Rivera's left tibia has healed enough to enable him to shed his crutches and walk on his own power. ... Right-handed pitchers Tommy Mendoza and Robert Mosebach and catcher Brenton Del Chiaro were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Up next: Bullpen anchors Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez are scheduled to make their Cactus League debuts on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, backing up starter Kelvim Escobar against the Padres and David Wells. The Angels should have most of their regulars in the lineup.

In a split-squad game Friday night at Surprise against Kansas City, right-hander Nick Adenhart gets his first start of the spring against right-hander Luke Hudson.