May 2009

Willits, not Wilson, gets the call

Brandon Wood realistically couldn’t have done any more to keep his spot on the 25-man roster, but he’s back in Salt Lake, getting the at-bats that were not available in Anaheim.

What the Angels have in mind for Wood, now and long term, I don’t know. I suspect he’s their fallback at third base if Chone Figgins departs via free agency, but I also think he could slide in on a daily basis there next year if Figgins is retained as an outfielder or an all-purpose player.

Trouble is, if Figgins thinks that he’s going back to being something other than any everyday third baseman, it’s doubtful he’d want to come back. He loves having a position and a role, and who can blame him? He has shown himself to be a quality third baseman and one of the game’s best leadoff hitters.

Manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged before Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays and the great Roy Halladay that the decision-makers had considered bringing up Bobby Wilson to back up Jeff Mathis, with Mike Napoli sliding into the DH role on a regular basis.

Apparently, they decided it wasn’t time for that bold move and recalled instead Reggie Willits, a versatile and highly underrated role player who can do many positive things for a club.

Personally, I’d find a place for Wilson and Willits, but Scioscia feels he needs 12 pitchers and will continue to carry 12 until the pitching staff comes together. That could happen in June, July, perhaps not at all.

Again, this is just my opinion, but Napoli should be in the lineup every day, and the only way that’s going to happen is as a DH who occasionally catches and/or plays first base. What he does with a bat is too valuable to risk with the kinds of injuries that have sent Napoli to the DL the past two seasons.

In his two starts as a DH, Napoli celebrated with six hits in seven at-bats, with two walks and three RBIs. The one out he made sent an outfielder to the wall at Yankee Stadium.

The guy is a lethal hitter. I think he could approach Miguel Cabrera’s numbers in Detroit as an everyday DH. Mathis and Wilson are quality defensive players, both capable of hitting in the .250 range. Mathis has shown that even though he doesn’t hit for a high average, he is clutch. We’ve seen him deliver big hits under pressure frequently, and there’s a reason for that — he’s an athlete who happens to catch. You’ll never see a more athletic catcher.

Wilson has paid his dues and is ready for a role in the big time, along with a half-dozen teammates in Salt Lake. Wood, back with the Bees, is an everyday Major League talent right now with no place to play in Anaheim with the Angels’ abundance of quality infielders.

Like Napoli, Wood, playing every day, has the ability to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. He won’t hurt you at third or at shortstop, either. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As they used to say in Brooklyn, wait’ll next year.  

 

Santana, Lackey set to go

Ervin Santana, rebounding from a sprained right elbow that sidelined him all spring, is set to make the next step toward rejoining the Angels’ rotation.

A 2008 American League All-Star, Santana is set to pitch four innings for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Monday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the goal is to get Santana through four innings and 60 pitches, adding about 15 pitches in ensuing starts until he’s ready to go for the Angels.

John Lackey, a 2007 AL All-Star and league ERA kingpin, is set to make his first rehab start in his recovery from a right forearm strain on Tuesday for Triple-A Salt Lake. Lackey, like Santana, is expected to deliver four innings and about 60 pitches, Scioscia said.

“John looked good” in throwing 45 pitches and three innings in extended Spring Training on Thursday, Scioscia said. “We’re encouraged by how John and Ervin are both progressing. We’ll see where they are after these next outings and go from there.”

 

Napoli, DH

Here’s how the Angels will line up against Andy Pettitte — rain is falling on a tarp in the late afternoon — at Yankee Stadium:

1. Chone Figgins, 3B

2. Gary Matthews Jr., RF

3. Bobby Abreu, LF

4. Torii Hunter, CF

5. Mike Napoli, DH

6. Howard Kendrick, 2B

7. Robb Quinlan, 1B

8. Jeff Mathis, C

9. Erick Aybar, SS

Jered Weaver, P

 

This is a big night for Napoli and his fans.Manager Mike Scioscia putting the big bopper in the DH spot could be a one-night stand, or it could be the start of something big — and productive.

Napoli has a big, long swing — and the highest home run ration in history among catchers. Critics would scoff that it’s a small sample, representing just 50 home runs, in relation to past receivers of renown such as Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella.

But Napoli is a born hitter. Jeff Mathis is a terrific catcher, young and getting better all the time. It makes great sense to have both of these guys in the lineup, as often as they can handle it. That’s why it seems like the right thing to do — Napoli as DH, catching occasionally, with Bobby Wilson summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake to back up Mathis.

Quinlan, a .417 career hitter against Pettitte with a double, two RBIs in 12 at-bats, also gets a start at first base in the wake of a rough night for Morales in the series opener. Kendry was hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times, after a recent surge of hits.

Old school to the bone, I do not like the idea of carrying 12 pitchers. I didn’t care for going to 11, frankly. I recognize that the bullpen has been beaten up a little bit in the season’s first month, but four position players off the bench reduces a manager’s options late in games. I’d rather have that extra bench player than a reliever who is there primarily to soak up innings in lost causes, after a starter has been knocked out early.

We’ll see if it lasts, Napoli as a DH, or if it’s a one-time thing. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think Napoli, with 550 to 600 at-bats and free of the physical burden of catching frequently, can hit 40 homers and drive in more than 100 runs.

“Nap’s got big-time power, man,” Hunter said the other day. “The guy can mash.”

Tonight, Napoli will be protecting Hunter, the cleanup man, in the No. 5 hole.

Surely, a factor in Scioscia’s decision is Napoli’s history against Pettitte. He’s 3-for-5 with a double. But when he’s locked in, seeing the ball well and driving it, no yard can hold him. Napoli in the batter’s box is a weapon.   

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