ANAHEIM – Jose Arredondo was back on Saturday on the Angel Stadium scene where he made such a dramatic impact in 2008, greeting Angels teammates with a big smile.
After making 12 appearances this season and working through ulna nerve issues in his right elbow at Triple-A Salt Lake, Arredondo has returned to supply middle relief, replacing starter Joe Saunders on the Angels’ 25-man roster with the lefty going on the 15-day disabled list because of left shoulder stiffness.
“It’s better than it was,” Arredondo said of his right arm, which gave the Angels a tremendous lift last season when he was 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 52 games as a rookie. “It’s still not perfect, 100 percent, but I’ll do the best I can. I want to help this team again.”
Arredondo was 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 19 appearances at Salt Lake. He yielded 13 hits and 14 walks in 20 2/3 innings, striking out 24 hitters.
“The last couple outings, his fastball command was better and his velocity was better,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Last year, the way he pitched was terrific. His stuff isn’t quite there, but it’s much better than it was earlier. He worked a couple things out and pitched with more confidence [at Salt Lake].
“This guy has potential to be a closer. He has that kind of stuff and makeup. He was really searching for some things earlier in the season.”
His primary search was for a healthy elbow, it turns out. If he can cut loose, he can give the Angels some quality work. Scioscia said Arredondo is capable of pitching multiple innings if necessary but won’t be thrust into a setup role right away.
The past month has brought validation to Gary Matthews Jr. With Torii Hunter sidelined, Matthews has started every game in center field during a 17-6 stretch by the Angels, contributing offensively and defensively.
“To be able to contribute to a winning team is something every player wants,” Matthews said. “All any player can ask for is the opportunity. When you’re able to go out and perform, help your team win, it feels good.
“It has reiterated the fact I can play every day and be successful. I’ve gotten some really big hits and been a key contributor to the team. It has reiterated what I’ve said and felt all along.”
Coming into Thursday’s series finale against the White Sox in Chicago, Matthews has hit safely in eight of the past nine games, batting .351 during that stretch with six runs scored and six RBIs.
His .247 batting average isn’t impressive, but he has numbers that clearly demonstrate that he has elevated his game in clutch situations. Matthews is batting .295 with runners on base, .344 with runners in scoring position, .455 with two out and runners in scoring position, and .571 with the bases loaded.
“I’ve never been afraid of big situations,” he said.
Matthews has talked with Chone Figgins about sharpening his focus with the bases clear, when his average slips to .206. But Gary also knows he excelled as a leadoff man in Texas in 2006, before signing his five-year free agent deal with the Angels, and that it’s just a matter of getting back to that mindset.
“I don’t check the numbers,” Matthews said, “but as a player, you know what you’re hitting in certain situations. I’ve been really comfortable hitting with runners in scoring position. I don’t know if it’s a matter of better concentration, but I’ve had some success in those situations that I’d like to carry over to all of my at-bats.
“Certainly it brings out your instincts in those big situations, but it’s also the competitor in any player. There’s something about having a runner on second base or third base. You know a pitcher steps it up a level, and as a hitter you have to step it up, too. In talking with Figgy about your approach with no runners on, it could be I’m trying to do too much in those situations.”
As he continues his rehab from an adductor muscle strain in his right side, Hunter knows his job is in good hands.
“For a guy who didn’t play regularly for three months,” Hunter said, “Gary’s playing at a high level. That’s not easy, what he’s done. He’s in the upper class of defensive center fielders, and he’s showing it. And he’s been coming up with big hits.
“It’s good you’ve got somebody like that who could be a starter anywhere else. We’ve got a lot of quality players on this team.”
Perhaps no player better embodies the Angels’ remarkable organizational depth and versatility than Sean Rodriguez, who is emerging as their new Chone Figgins with his ability to play capably all over the field.
“From the perspective of being an everyday player, he’s opened up a new dimension being able to play the outfield every day,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Wednesday as Rodriguez was back with Triple-A Salt Lake following two superb games in left field in Minnesota over the weekend. “He’s got enough thunder in his bat to play corner outfield. He can play second base every day, shortstop, third base. He’s a baseball player, a terrific athlete.
“The way he handled himself on the defensive end [at the Metrodome] is a plus. We’ve seen glimpses of the power he has. He’s putting it together.”
The Angels elected to return Rodriguez to Salt Lake and keep Reggie Willits on the 25-man roster because of Willits’ ability to do multiple things late in games — pinch run, get a bunt down, hit-and-run — and his superior experience in center field, where he’ll support Gary Matthews Jr. in Torii Hunter’s absence.
Rodriguez, a natural center fielder who played there at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami, transformed himself into a quality middle infielder after signing with the Angels in 2003 as a third-round choice in the First-Year Player Draft.
Developing his infield skills while hitting with power as he climbed the organizational ladder, Rodriguez returned to the outfield, playing all three positions along with the infield, to enhance his appeal as an all-purpose talent. It helped Figgins carve out his career, and now, having settled in full-time in one role, he’s one of the game’s elite third basemen.
Summoned to the big club from Triple-A Salt Lake, where he’s been pounding Pacific Coast League pitching all season, all Rodriguez did in two starts in Minnesota was lash a pair of singles and make two excellent defensive plays in his first start in left field, then bang a homer over the center field wall the following day.
Arriving in Chicago, Rodriguez learned that he was heading back to Salt Lake to make room for Vladimir Guerrero, coming off the disabled list after recovering from a muscle strain behind his left knee.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Rodriguez said. He couldn’t hide his disappointment, just as Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson days before him.
Scioscia raved about the impression made by the 24-year-old Rodriguez last season at second base during a lengthy stretch in May with Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis both injured.
“This guy can play the game,” Scioscia said.
Rodriguez is batting .290 at Salt Lake with 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 81 games. Wood is batting .316 in the PCL with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 74 games, while Terry Evans checks in at .290 with 22 homers, 76 RBIs in 105 games. Rodriguez has a narrow edge over Wood in slugging, .603 to .597, with Evans at .526.
Vladimir Guerrero will make his return to the Angels lineup tonight against the White Sox as the designated hitter, batting in his customary cleanup spot between AL Player of the Month Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera.
Catcher Bobby Wilson is being returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Guerrero on the 25-man roster.
Guerrero and Torii Hunter have been on the 15-day disabled list since July 10. The Angels were 17-3 with their customary 3-4 hitters out of the lineup.
Guerrero, sidelined with a strained muscle behind his left knee, is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
Hunter, out with an adductor muscle strain on his right side, will need a little more time, manager Mike Scioscia said, because he’ll be in center field when he rejoins the lineup. Hunter could play a few Minor League rehab games this weekend to get ready.
Vladimir Guerrero “ran great today,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Sunday’s game against the Twins. Torii Hunter, also eager to get off the disabled list and get his Rawlings Gold Glove back in center field, “ran very well,” Scioscia added.
“We’ll wait and see how they come out of it. Vlad’s probably a couple of days ahead of Torii now.”
Guerrero, if all goes well, could be back in the designated hitter role by the time the Angels leave Chicago on Thursday night. Because he won’t be playing in right field for a while, if at all, the big bopper won’t need any Minor League rehab games, Scioscia said.
Hunter, on the other hand, figures to play a few games next weekend with one of the Angels’ Minor League affiliates – perhaps in his native Arkansas with the Double-A Travelers. Triple-A Salt Lake and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga are also possibilities.
“I’m dying to get off the DL,” Hunter said, frustrated by his inability to play this weekend in what would have been his farewell to the Metrodome, where his career started with the Twins.
“In Torii’s case, he’s going to most likely go down and play a few games to work his way out of stiffness connected to playing the outfield again,” Scioscia said. “With Vlad, the earlier he starts seeing Major League pitching, there’s a better chance of being productive early.”
The Angels, in a tribute to their remarkable depth and the tremendous offense generated by the likes of Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order, are 16-3 since their 3-4 hitters went on the DL together on July 10 – Guerrero with a muscle strain behind his left knee, Hunter with an adductor muscle strain on his right side.
Scioscia said Guerrero will be “somewhere in the middle” of the order when he returns but is unsure exactly how he’ll fit him in. There are a variety of lineup options.
So deep are the Angels, Napoli couldn’t find his way into the lineup on Sunday after collecting a total of seven hits in the first two games of the series. Abreu assumed the DH spot with Rivera going to right field.
With 19 hits on Friday night and 18 on Saturday night, scoring 11 runs each time, the Angels accomplished something unprecedented in franchise history, spanning 7,751 games. It’s the first time they’ve ever put together back-to-back games with 18 or more hits.