March 2009

Hunter scalding hot

Torii Hunter made it four homers in three games today with another blast  over the wall in center field. He knows he’s locked in when he’s smoking balls to the middle of the field, and that’s where he is right now. Before the homer, he launched one that was caught at the wall in right center that would have been gone in Texas.

Mike Scioscia has to like what he sees at the top of the order, with Chone Figgins smacking line drives all over the place and Howard Kendrick looking very comfortable in the No. 2 hole. Kendrick will learn that he’ll see a high percentage of fastballs hitting between Figgins and Bobby Abreu, who has tested pitchers’ endurance for years with his remarkable discipline.

As for Vladimir Guerrero, who crushed a double to cash in Abreu before Hunter’s bomb, everything appears to be in fine order for a 35 HR/125-RBI campaign. With Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera or Gary Matthews and Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis coming up behind the top five, the Angels are going to score runs in numbers. And Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis will serve as, in effect, a leadoff man in front of the leadoff man, Figgy.

I don’t think what we’re seeing this spring, this offensive explosion, is an aberration, a case of cleaning  up on bad pitching. This is a good offense — and it could be a great offense if the big guns (and the top two) stay healthy. And even if they don’t stay healthy, they won’t lose a thing if  Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez or Reggie Willits stand in for a spell.

The Angels have enough position players to field another quality Major League team. It almost isn’t fair when you see what they have in relation to what some other clubs are putting on the field.   

Matthews, brass have emotional meeting

Gary Matthews Jr. views himself as an everyday Major League outfielder, so it came as no surprise when he stormed out of a meeting with the brass on Sunday at the team’s Spring Training facility and did not accompany the team for a trip to Surprise for a game against his former team, the Rangers.

“We just let Gary know where things stand at this point in the season, and that’s about all I can say about it,” manager Mike Scioscia said of the meeting also attended by general manager Tony Reagins. “We were honest with him, and he let us know how he feels.

“Gary wants to play, and that’s understandable. But the way things are right now, he’s the fifth outfielder, coming off knee surgery. We have Vlad [Guerrero], Torii [Hunter], Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, and those are four good players. Gary needs to focus on getting completely healthy and contributing when he can.”

Matthews, who has a full no-trade clause in his contract this season, would be owed a $500,000 assignment fee if dealt.

Matthews has said he would be more than open to a trade to a club that could use him on a regular basis, especially as a center fielder. He has three years left on a deal he signed after his 2006 All-Star season with Texas — $10 million this season, $11 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2012.

“As of today,” Reagins told reporters, “he’s going to be an extra outfielder. We gave him an update on his status. We were very forthright, but the details of the meeting will remain behind closed doors.”

Matthews changed into street clothes and left the facility, the team granting him permission to take the day off.

Matthews said he needed some time to “think things over.” After undergoing left knee surgery in late October, he “worked his butt off this” winter, according to Scioscia, and is in the midst of a strong spring, batting .258 with two homers, two doubles and a triple in 31 at-bats.

Moseley goes seven

In a camp game at Scottsdale against the Giants’ Triple-A players, Angels starter Dustin Moseley went seven innings and made 88 pitches, four of them leaving the park. Moseley yielded six earned runs, walking one man while giving up 10 hits and striking out three.

In that same game, facing reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Mike Napoli went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two walks. In the informal setting of such games, players can bat multiple times, prompting Lincecum to remark, “Man, that was a lot of Napolis.”

Young first baseman Mark Trumbo homered for the Angels. 

Another good Escobar effort

Hitting 94 mph on the radar gun and the catcher’s target with regularity, Kelvim Escobar took another step on Saturday toward a return to the Angels’ rotation.

Throwing against Giants Double-A hitters in a camp game in Scottsdale, Escobar retired the first 10 hitters he faced before walking the final man. He finished with two strikeouts, throwing a total of 40 pitches. The Giants didn’t hit a ball out of the infield.

Escobar threw 24 strikes, hitting 91-93 mph regularly. He also made an athletic defensive play on a high chopper.

 

“I felt good,” Escobar said. “I think it was better today than the last time – location was
good, breaking stuff was better. I was more under control. Today, I was focused more on hitting my spots. The other day I think I was too excited.

 

“I was mixing my pitches, throwing two-seamers. I wanted to get better feel for my breaking pitches and my two-seamer. I told my catcher (Bobby Wilson) before the game I wanted to work on my breaking pitches.”

 

The shoulder, he said, “feels good.” He said he thinks he’s going to pitch against the Padres next, possibly in San Diego on Friday.

 

“I think it’d be good for me if I get to face big-league hitters and the
environment – the stadium, the lights and everything,” he said.” Playing with my
teammates again – it’ll be exciting.”

Pitching coach Mike Butcher alluded to Escobar’s “steady progression,” praising the “sharpness of his pitches and the movement on his breaking pitches.


“I think right now the value for him is just getting healthy, getting out
there and pitching,” Butcher said. “He looked pretty sharp today. It’s very impressive what he’s doing.”

 

 

 

 

Wood dazzles at shortstop

Brandon Wood’s eyes seem to brighten when he looks at the lineup card and sees he’s at shortstop. He put on another show at his natural position on Saturday in Tucson. Unfortunately, it went largely unnoticed, obscured by the events surrounding John Lackey’s forearm and Mike Napoli’s return behind the plate.

Facing Dan Haren, one of the game’s premier right-handers, in the second inning after Haren had set down the first five men he faced, Wood went with a slider on an 0-1 count and launched it over the wall in right field.

“I hit it on the sweet spot,” Wood said, his fourth Cactus League homer tying him with Jeff Mathis for the club lead. “Any time you can go deep on a guy like that, it feels good.”

But the best was about to come. Arizona catcher Miguel Montero hit a ground ball seemingly headed for left field. Wood got there running full-tilt, leaped and whirled in a motion that Derek Jeter has come to popularize, and gunned down the runner with a strong, accurate throw.

“I like defense,” Wood said when asked which of the two acts — the opposite-field homer or sensational play in the field — was more gratifying. “To get out there at shortstop and make a play, I really enjoy that. Normally, you want to try to plant and set for the throw, but in that case, moving as fast as I was, it probably would have taken four or five steps to get set. So I went in the air and let it fly.”

It was clearly a big-league play by a big-league shortstop. With Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Sean Rodriguez — great athlete, gun of an arm — also at the position, the Angels have an embarrassment of riches.

Wood wasn’t quite done. Later in the game, he appeared to break his bat launching a 340-foot foul drive into the left-field corner. It turns out he’d actually broken the bat on an earlier pitch in the at-bat.

“I hit a line drive on a 2-0 pitch, and that’s when I broke it,” Wood said. “When I hit the ball down the line, it didn’t travel as far as I thought it would. I looked at the bat, and the handle was cracked.”

Solid glove, strong arm, awesome power. Nice tool kit Brandon is carrying around.

     

Vlad out of lineup, Conger in

Vladimir Guerrero, whose bat has come to life with a double and homer in his past two games, is not in the lineup today. He has an eye infection and is on antibiotics.

With Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson catching Dustin Moseley and Kelvim Escobar, respectively, in camp games in Scottsdale, Hank Conger is getting his first starting assignment in the Cactus League behind the plate.

Conger, in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia, has the ability to hit major league pitching right now. The former No. 1 pick from Huntington Beach is projected to play at Double-A Arkansas this season. He’s still viewed as a catcher, but his development defensively has been slowed by shoulder issues. The Angels are eager to see how he fares in game conditions.

Mike Napoli, who made his first appearance behind the plate in Tucson on Friday, going five innings and throwing out a runner trying to steal, said his shoulder felt good when he got up today — a very positive sign. He said he had no problems throwing long toss in the outfield — another good sign.

 

 

Adenhart shows right stuff

Nick Adenhart was in trouble right out of the chute. He walked Jamey Carroll on four pitches, then fell behind Mark De Rosa 2-0 before the Indians’ third baseman lined a single to left center, sending Carroll to third.

This is where the new and improved Adenhart surfaced. Taking his time, along with deep breaths, Adenhart gathered himself, made good pitches to the heart of the order, and escaped unscathed. Victor Martinez grounded to Chone Figgins at third for an out at home. Travis Hafner, the muscular cleanup man, went down swinging on an off-speed delivery. Shin-soo Choo, who starred for Korea n the World Baseball Classic, popped out.

This is exactly how you want to respond to adversity if you’re a young pitcher trying to carve out a rotation spot on a championship-caliber team.

Adenhart, settling into a groove, retired six of the next seven he faced, with Ben Francisco beating out an infield hit.

Fireworks continue: three straight bombs

Back-to-back-to-back. That’s what the Angels did on Thursday in their first look at Goodyear Ballpark, home of the Indians. Facing lefty Scott Lewis in the third inning after he’d already yielded two runs on four hits, Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter each went deep, using all fields – Abreu to center, Guerrero to right, Hunter to left.

Mike Scioscia once again had Chone Figgins, Howard Kendrick and Abreu at the top of the order, and through three innings they’d combined for a single and triple (by Figgins), a walk (by Kendrick, showing his plate discipline) and the blast by Abreu.

Showing he was fully recovered from the crash into the center field wall on Tuesday against the Rockies at home, Hunter lashed a double to left in his first at-bat. Even before his 400-foot shot to left, Hunter had lined a ball just foul into the left-field corner.

Jeff Mathis, catching Nick Adenhart, had two hits through two innings. Perhaps the best athlete among all catchers in the game, Mathis showed his speed when he stole second. This is a guy who could have been a defensive back at Florida State had he chosen football over baseball. How many catchers can say that?

 

Hunter bangs into wall, departs early

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter didn’t make it through the top of the first inning on Tuesday against the Rockies at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Giving chase to a drive by Jeff Baker to dead center, Hunter banged hard into the wall and came crashing to the ground as the ball bounded off the wall, enabling Baker to race all the way around for a two-run, inside-the-park homer.

Hunter was taken for precautionary X-rays, the ball having struck him in the nose as it bounced off the wall. 

Hunter appeared groggy. He walked off the field on his own power, a good sign that there was no structural damage. There was no immediate report on his condition.

Matthews wants to play every day — somewhere

Gary Matthews Jr. is determined to play every day, preferably in center field. The Angels — overstocked with quality outfielders – do not appear to have a place for him to do so on a regular basis.

“There comes a time if a decision is made . . . ” manager Mike Scioscia said, not finishing the thought. “We’ve got a lot of bats here. We’ll address things in time. We’re not going to make a decision today.”

Recovered from late October surgery on his left knee, Matthews has been more than impressive in Cactus League play. He has been spectacular.

Matthews’ two-run homer against the Padres in Tuesday’s 10-5 Angels victory was a tremendous drive to right field that, he later reported, “came within six inches of hitting my Bentley” in the parking lot.

He crushed this one almost as far, he believed, as the one against the White Sox in the new Camelback Ranch-Glendale park that teammates estimated at 450 feet.

Matthews, who doubled in front of Maicer Izturis’ three-run homer in his first at-bat, is hitting .412 with 16 total bases in 17 at-bats.

“My play’s kind of doing all the talking for me,” Matthews said. “My play speaks louder than what I can say to anyone. I wasn’t supposed to be back until mid-May, late-May. I’m fine. I’m ready to go back to playing every day.”

With Torii Hunter entrenched in center field and Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera ahead of him on the outfield depth chart, Matthews has a hard time seeing consistent playing time coming his way no matter what he does.
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He has gone to general manager Tony Reagins and Scioscia to express his desire to play regularly, and they have been candid with him, he said, about their point of view.

“You don’t play forever,” Matthews said. “I’m 34. Guys take such good care of themselves now. I’m 34. It’s not like I’m 24 and have time to sit around and waste years sitting around. That’s not what I’m going to do.”

That sounds very much like “play me or trade me,” a refrain as old as the game itself.

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