PHOENIX -- It's a rite of spring for Angels southpaw Sean Burnett, and an irritating one at that. Every year, the veteran reliever finds a way to injure his back, and it usually has nothing to do with his work on the field. It's often a fleeting injury, but it's still one that knocks Burnett off his early training regimen.
This year is no exception, and Burnett finds himself a week behind his peers. He threw a bullpen session on Sunday and will likely need at least one more before he progresses to game action, but he said Monday that his back is no longer an issue.
"Some guys get dead arm. My back locks up on me," said Burnett. "I'm not sure what it is or what causes it, but we've got it taken care of."
Burnett, who has pitched his entire career in the National League, is working through his first Spring Training with the Angels and hoping to be a major part of the team's bullpen. In order for that to happen, though, he's got to get himself healthy and in prime condition for Opening Day.
The former first-round Draft pick has been remarkably consistent over the last four years, and he's logged a 2.85 ERA while finishing more than one-sixth of the games in which he pitched for the Pirates and Nationals (51 of 283). And in virtually all of those seasons, Burnett has thrived despite his back making things difficult.
"It happens every Spring Training," he said. "Last year, I was turning to put my glove into a locker. This year, I was putting my kid into a shopping cart to get some stuff. The year before, I think I was putting on my baseball pants. It's all crazy accidents, nothing that's ever happened on the field."
The Angels are aware of that history, and they want to make sure that he doesn't overexert himself. Manager Mike Scioscia said that Burnett will likely throw another bullpen session on Tuesday, and if he gets through it without any pain, he could progress to game action later in the week.
"I think he's going to need a little more work. But he's close," said Scioscia. "And you know, he's got time. He's got this week to make sure he's strong and ready to go."
So what can Burnett do to avoid the annual injury? He certainly can't stop pulling on his baseball pants, and he doesn't think it's a matter of conditioning. All he can do, he said, is soldier through it.
"I've just got to maintain it with exercise," he said. "It's only flared up once a year, and hopefully that's the one time. I feel good now. I feel like nothing ever happened. Back to 100 percent."
Vargas lets it fly in impressive Angels debut
PHOENIX -- Jason Vargas made quick work of the A's on Monday, and then he worked just as rapidly in the postgame interview. Vargas, making his first start for the Angels, threw two no-hit innings against Oakland and said afterward that he was just gripping it and ripping it.
"I mainly threw fastballs, and for the most part they were strikes," said Vargas. "I threw a couple decent changeups, but other than that I was just trying to pound the strike zone with fastballs."
Vargas, acquired from Seattle in exchange for Kendrys Morales in December, was rarely challenged. He only allowed one baserunner -- a walk to infielder Adam Rosales -- in his two innings, and he escaped the first inning on a popup and a groundout to shortstop.
The left-hander got Jed Lowrie to strike out on a changeup in the bottom of the second, and he coaxed a popup from Brandon Moss. The last batter he faced -- Josh Donaldson -- hit the only hard shot of the day against Vargas, but third baseman Alberto Callaspo snagged it on a line.
"I felt pretty dialed in, and they made some pretty good plays behind me," said Vargas of his infielders. "I don't know how Callaspo saw that ball, but I'm sure glad he caught it."
Vargas said he enjoyed throwing to catcher Hank Conger for the first time, and he said the main takeaway for him was being able to cope well with the extra adrenaline in his first start. Vargas, a native of Apple Valley, Calif., said he felt strong and was pleased with his outing
"I didn't feel tired or anything like that," he said. "It was just good to get out there."
Manager Mike Scioscia liked what he saw from Vargas, and he said he'd love to see Tommy Hanson get in a similar outing on Tuesday against the Reds. Scioscia said that Vargas may be new to the Angels, but the team saw plenty of him when he was in Seattle.
"We saw it from the other dugout," said Scioscia. "I thought his velocity was where it needed to be. He showed some good changeups. I think his rhythm was great. It was a great workout for him."
Angels release Japan league veteran Kobayashi
PHOENIX -- The Angels released veteran pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi on Monday, giving the right-hander a chance to land with another team. Kobayashi, 34, went 26-36 with a 3.65 ERA in five seasons split between Japan's Pacific and Central leagues, but this was his first attempt at landing a job in the Major Leagues.
Most of Kobayashi's career came with Chiba Lotte, where he was managed by Bobby Valentine for three seasons. Kobayashi's most effective season came in 2007, when he went 13-3 with a 2.69 ERA for Chiba Lotte, and he registered a 2.21 ERA as a reliever for the same team in 2010.
Kobayashi, who pitched last year in Japan's Industrial League, registered a 4.50 ERA in three appearances for Los Angeles this spring, and manager Mike Scioscia said the release was best for all parties.
"Kobi just wasn't as far along as he needed to be to compete for a job on our staff," Scioscia said after his team's 13-5 loss to Oakland. "It's probably better if he's wants to go somewhere else and hook on."
Cowart getting taste of 'The Show' at Angels camp
PHOENIX -- Angels prospect Kaleb Cowart could be taking classes in college right now, but instead he's enrolled in a big league learning experience. Cowart, just 20 years old, is taking in the sights and sounds of Spring Training and getting used to being teammates with guys like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
For Cowart, a former first-round draft pick, every day is another chance to prove he belongs in elite company. His locker is nestled in the corner of the home clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium, giving Cowart a chance to observe his more celebrated teammates going about their business.
"I take it as a learning experience," said Cowart, a third baseman who is considered one of the Angels' top offensive prospects. "It's really cool to be around some of these guys that are so accomplished in the big leagues. I just consider it a tremendous honor. I'm really pumped to be here."
And why wouldn't he be? Cowart, the 18th overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, spent most of his time working with the team's Minor Leaguers last season. Now, coming off a season that saw him reach the Class A California League, Cowart is rubbing elbows with All-Stars.
Cowart singled out Hamilton and Mike Trout as players who have been willing to help him get comfortable, but he also said that he hasn't really had time to get star-struck.
"I came up a little bit last year in the games during Spring Training, so it's not overwhelming," said Cowart. "It's different at first, but they're guys just like we are. They're good, humble guys, and you couldn't ask for a better clubhouse. I talk to most of them. Real good guys."
Cowart can draw inspiration from Trout's success, especially since the outfielder is just 10 months older than him. But not everybody can transition from prospect to All-Star as quickly as Trout, and Cowart said that he just needs time and maturation in order to make the leap.
"Consistency. Experience," he said of his peers. "They know what they're doing on the mental side. They've been at it a lot longer than I have. I can't wait to be one of those guys one day."
Cowart is a career .275 hitter in the Minor Leagues, and he'll likely add power as he progresses through the upper levels of the farm system. And if you ask Angels manager Mike Scioscia for first impressions of Cowart, he'll tell you that the youngster has turned heads in his own way.
"His makeup is off the charts," he said. "He's much beyond his years, much like Mike Trout was, much like some of the other young players we've had. He's a very confident kid. You can see it every day. His confidence keeps growing because he's playing with the big boys and holding his own."
• Manager Mike Scioscia said Josh Hamilton will likely play the outfield at 12:05 p.m. PT on Tuesday against the Reds. Hamilton has been the designated hitter in two of his first three games this spring.
• Pitching prospect Steven Geltz has been reassigned to the team's Minor League camp. Geltz, 25 years old, logged a 2.25 ERA in four spring games.
• Veteran Chad Cordero allowed six runs on five hits on Monday. Cordero recorded two outs and wound up leaving with two men on base. Both runners scored. Still, Cordero hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2010 and every bit of exposure helps.
"Chad has good command when he's really on," said Scioscia. "He got some fastballs flat over the plate and then had trouble putting some people away in deeper counts. ... It's not a total surprise. Just so he's healthy and his arm rebounds well and he maintains his stuff, he's still coming."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.