TEMPE, Ariz. -- He'd already fallen in love with the game in his native Australia, but the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games clinched it. He'd just turned 16, and Rich Thompson knew this was what he wanted to do with his life.

"I was the batboy for the U.S. in the gold medal game against Cuba," said Thompson, a 23-year-old right-hander making a strong bid for a bullpen job with the Angels. "That was such a great time for our country -- and for the U.S., of course, when it beat Cuba that day.

"I started playing at age 5, T-ball. I was a position player, an infielder and outfielder, before I signed with the Angels [in 2002]. I'd come in and pitch an inning or two at the end of games."

Armed with a fastball that hits 94 mph, a sharp curve and a changeup, Thompson was dominant at Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Salt Lake in 2007 (2.10 ERA, 82 strikeouts, 20 walks in 73 innings), earning a September look by the Angels. He gave up eight earned runs in seven innings.

Thompson had been in the Angels' system for two seasons, reaching high Class A Rancho Cucamonga when he helped the Aussies claim a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games. He pitched three innings against Greece and got one out against Chinese Taipei.

"We beat [Daisuke] Matsuzaka [and Japan], 1-0, to get in the gold medal game," Thompson said. "There were a lot of big leaguers in the Games. I think we learned something in the 2000 Games, about not getting caught up too much in the atmosphere. It's the Olympics, but it's still a baseball game."

Thompson was disappointed recently when Australia fell short in a qualifying tournament in Taiwan of earning a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Games.

"It's a shame, not being able to go over to defend our silver medal," Thompson said. "A lot of the guys were really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the tournament came at a bad time with so many of us in [Spring Training] camp and unable to get away."

Thompson has racked up six consecutive scoreless innings since yielding three runs in his Cactus League debut against the White Sox in Tucson. His ERA is 3.86, and he has six strikeouts in seven innings.

Keeping pace: Jason Bulger, another right-handed power pitcher gunning for a bullpen job, delivered two perfect innings to finish a victory over the Giants on Thursday.

Reducing his spring ERA to 5.14, Bulger demonstrated the mid-90s heater and hard slider that made him a No. 1 pick by Arizona in 2001. He had a 2.84 ERA for the Angels in September, with eight strikeouts against three walks in 6 1/3 innings.

Spring Training
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Sleeper: While most of the focus has been on sidearming Darren O'Day, Alex Serrano also has joined the hunt for a spot in the bullpen with middle reliever Chris Bootcheck (strained oblique) unlikely to be ready on Opening Day.

Serrano has been among the most resilient pitchers in camp, fashioning a 2.31 ERA. A Venezuelan right-hander signed as a free agent after the 2006 season, Serrano is 27, a strike thrower with a nice repertoire and a good feel for the craft. He has a 3.29 ERA in 283 Minor League games with an impressive 4-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (360 to 91) in 415 1/3 innings.

They're No. 1 Jered Weaver, the Angels' top pick and 12th overall in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, is in the process of nailing down the Opening Day starting assignment in Minnesota on March 31 in the absence of John Lackey (strained right triceps) and Kelvim Escobar (right shoulder inflammation).

Going into Friday night's start against the Rangers in Surprise, Weaver had a 1.29 ERA through 14 innings and had yielded just five hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts. Frustrated last spring by biceps tendinitis, he rebounded to go 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 28 outings. Healthy this spring, he has resembled the phenom who won his first nine decisions in 2006 en route to an 11-2 record and 2.56 ERA in 19 starts.

Manager Mike Scioscia likes to hold off on such decisions, but Weaver is the odds-on favorite to take the ball against the Twins.

Class of 2007: In search of left-handed pitching, the Angels might have uncovered a pair of gems in eighth-round choice Trevor Reckling and 12th-round pick Michael Anton.

Reckling, a 6-foot-3 athlete from Newark, N.J., earned a spot on St. Benedict Prep's basketball powerhouse. His out pitch is a big curveball, one of the best in the organization. He dominated Rookie League hitters in Arizona with 55 strikeouts and seven walks in 36 innings after he was signed by Greg Morhardt. He's expected to start the season at Orem but could move swiftly through the system.

Featuring a quality changeup, Anton led the Arizona League with 82 strikeouts in 62 innings. He spent two seasons at Virginia Military Institute before a 2004 auto accident sidelined him for two seasons. Scout John Gracio is credited with helping revive Anton's career.

What they're saying: "He has an incredible future. Where he is right now is something we'll talk a lot about in the next few weeks. He's a candidate. We're not going to rush him if he's not ready, but at times, young talent outplays experience." -- Scioscia on 21-year-old Nick Adenhart, bidding to seize John Lackey's vacant spot in the rotation