Results tagged ‘ Bobby Abreu ’

Aybar close to untouchable

For the record, the Angels say nobody on their roster is untouchable. But Erick Aybar is about as close as it gets.

Staying healthy and in the lineup after missing chunks of the past two seasons with hand and hamstring injuries, the 25-year-old shortstop from Bani, Dominican Republic is emerging as one of the game’s most exciting young talents.

Aybar grew up wanting to be like Rafael Furcal, and he is getting there in a hurry by combining superb and consistent defense with a sizzling bat and blazing speed on the basepaths.

With extraordinary range and only five errors in 79 games, Aybar’s .986 fielding percentage is surpassed by only three regular Major League shortstops. He’s batting .316 overall and in the clutch, with a .355 on-base percentage that represents huge improvement over his .298 figure coming into the season.

As Angels general manager Tony Reagins engages in dialogue with other clubs as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches on Friday, Aybar is a popular topic.

You can ask for him, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get him.

Toronto apparently found that out when it demanded Aybar as part of a multi-player package in exchange for Roy Halladay. The Angels are believed to be maneuvering for the Indians’ Cliff Lee, but Aybar again could be a deal-breaker.

“It doesn’t affect me,” Aybar said on Tuesday night through Jose Mota’s translation. “I have a job to do. I can’t worry about my name being out there. It’s flattering teams want me, but it also makes me sad.”

He loves the team he’s with and the style it plays, which is perfectly suited to his skills. Manager Mike Scioscia realizes that there are few athletes in the game on Aybar’s level, having repeatedly expressed the view that Erick has star potential once he settles in and shows consistency with the bat and in the field.

Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Indians, Aybar was leading Angels regulars with his .316 average, ahead of Bobby Abreu (.314), Juan Rivera (.311), Chone Figgins (.309), Torii Hunter (.305) and Maicer Izturis (.300).

It’s a deep and formidable lineup, and when Aybar is linked with Figgins on the bases, it can be a show. You’d be hard-pressed to find two quicker, swifter baserunners in the same lineup. It calls to mind the St. Louis days when Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee ran circles around teams. 

“I feel confident,” Aybar said. “One thing I don’t feel is complacent. It feels good to be playing at this level. It’s a lot of fun.”

With an embarrassment of middle-infield riches – Aybar, Izturis, Howard Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez – along with other assets, the Angels could swing a deal by the deadline for a big-time starter or veteran setup man in front of Brian Fuentes.

Just don’t expect Aybar to be part of it.
 

Halladay, Angels could be a dream fit

The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.

The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.

The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.

Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.

Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.

The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.

The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.

The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.

The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.

When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.

This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.  

      

Mentor Abreu a daily influence

Bobby Abreu is not just a source of walks, base-hits, runs scored and RBIs. He’s an endlessly rewarding source of information, insights and perspective for younger teammates of all shapes, positions and nationalities.

Chone Figgins watches teammates pick Abreu’s brain every day. As mentors go, he’s invaluable. Among those who have benefitted from the veteran’s wisdom are Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis and Torii Hunter, as well as Figgins.

With Vladimir Guerrero’s production way down after his pectoral muscle tear, Rivera and Morales have arrived as forces in the middle of the lineup to pick up the slack, along with Hunter and Mike Napoli.

Rivera, Morales and Abreu all flourished in June. Rivera (24) and Abreu (23) were first and second in the AL in RBIs, Rivera batting .290 and slugging .590 while Abreu hit .303 with a .483 slugging percentage.

Morales batted .282 with a .588 slugging percentage. The first baseman unloaded five homers, three fewer than Rivera.

Morales and Rivera are in constant contact with Abreu.

“He’s teaching them to have a plan,” Figgins said. “Bobby always talks to them about their approach, not their swing. He never discusses swings — always your approach.

“For Juan and Kendry, and also for Izzy, hearing that every day from Bobby has obviously been a big plus. A lot of times he’s reinforcing what they’re doing. He stresses making sure you go after your pitch. If you put yourself in good hitting situations and get something good to hit, put a good swing on it.

“Bobby has shown over the years how effective his approach is, and all these guys are taking advantage of it.”

In the midst of what is shaping up as his finest offensive season across the board, Hunter has made the point that he’s a more disciplined hitter than at any point in his career.

“I thank Bobby for that,” Hunter said. “He’s shown me a lot of things. The man knows his stuff.”  

Recalling fatherly wisdom

When Gary “Sarge” Matthews was teaching his son the finer points of the game during Gary Jr.’s youth, there were insights and expressions culled from a life spent in baseball that resonate all these years later with the Angels’ outfielder.

“My dad used to tell me that he could teach me how to hit breaking balls and changeups – but either you can hit a fastball or you can’t,” Gary Jr. was saying on Father’s Day, his dad in Philadelphia where he works as a commentator on Phillies telecasts.

“My dad is as old school as it gets. That still rings true, but I have formed my own opinions over the years. I think one change in the game is that pitchers have evolved and now throw more breaking balls for strikes. Controlling the breaking ball, and not relying on fastballs as much early in counts, has changed things.”

In Detroit on the recent road trip, Matthews launched a 100-mph heater by Joel Zumaya – the hardest thrower in the game – deep into the right-field seats, foul. He’d turned on triple digits and was a split-second out in front of it, a display of remarkably quick hands.

On Saturday night at Angel Stadium, Matthews came off the bench in the ninth inning and launched a fastball from Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton into the seats in right center, turning a 6-2 deficit into what would be a 6-4 loss. It was the first Angels pinch-hit homer of the year and the fourth of Matthews’ career.

“I’ve never been accused of not being able to hit a fastball,” Matthews said, grinning.

Walking past Matthews’ locker, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, “You can’t put one past him.”

Matthews is a man without a position, a man who wants to play every day but has no steady job with the Angels. Juan Rivera has been on fire in left, joining Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu in the outfield with Vladimir Guerrero absorbing designated-hitter at-bats.

Matthews has made it clear all season that he doesn’t think of himself as a backup and will not be happy in that role. He thinks he’s one of the game’s most gifted center fielders, and Hunter – the best – agrees. But that is not much consolation. When you’re an athlete and you’re sitting, you don’t feel right.

All Matthews can do now is accept his role and make the best of a difficult situation. He is an expensive insurance policy, a card that will remain in manager Mike Scioscia’s deck most of the time until someone in front of him is injured or falls into a major slump.

“Not much I can do about it,” Matthews said. “I’ll just keep working and be ready when I’m called on.”

His old-school dad is on the cellphone with his son all the time, offering perspective, support, all the things a young man needs when he’s frustrated.

It is possible something could happen around the July 31 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, Matthews acquiring sudden appeal to a club in need of a quality center fielder. His salary – he’s in the third year of a five-year, $50 million contract – makes it unlikely. And not because Matthews has the contractual right to refuse a trade, as Jake Peavy did when the White Sox and Padres had worked out a deal.

Matthews yearns to be an everyday center fielder, but he’s on a club that employs the game’s best. It’s like being the guy who thought he’d have a crack at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo showed up with his brushes and paints.
   

Middle threesome flourishing

Even in the absence of Vladimir Guerrero, no reasonable Angels fan can complain about the production the Angels have been getting out of the middle of their order.

Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli have been about as good as any middle threesome in the game.

Hunter (nine homers, 27 RBIs coming into Saturday’s game), Morales (six homers, 23 RBIs) and Napoli (six homers, 17 RBIs) have accounted for 21 of the club’s 27 homers and 67 of its 163 RBIs.

Hunter is slugging at a .613 clip, eight in the American league, and this is being done in a pitcher-friendly home park. Napoli (.585) and Morales (.537) also are slugging at impressive rates, in the general neighborhood of Guerrero’s career slugging mark of .575.

When Vlad returns, perhaps in the next week to 10 days, it would seem to make sense to slide into the No. 3 spot in the order, with Bobby Abreu moving up, as originally planned, in the No. 2 hole between Chone Figgins and Guerrero. That would keep Hunter, Morales and Napoli aligned in the middle of the order, Napoli with his ability to get on base (team-high .423 on-base percentage) setting up the bottom third.

When asked Saturday about the possibility of Abreu hitting second when Guerrero returns, manager Mike Scioscia said it has come under discussion in staff meetings. When your faithful correspondent volunteered to join those meetings and offer input, Scioscia had no response — perhaps his way of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Just trying to help, big guy.  .

Reggie savors big night

Back in the starting lineup for the first time since last September, Reggie Willits had a big night behind the amazing Matt Palmer on Wednesday.

With a burst of speed, Willits triggered the five-run third inning that gave Palmer the lead with an infield hit. Stealing second with another burst, Reggie scored the first run on Torii Hunter’s line single. With another hit later in the game, Willits was hitting .333 as the night ended — and his family was there to see it live.

“Jaxon, my 4-year-old, was really excited,” Willits said. “But Eli [who is 1] fell asleep. It’s funny, they had a shot on TV of Amber [Reggie’s wife] holding Eli when he was asleep. My parents were watching, and it was the first time they’ve seen him since February. So they were pretty excited about that.”

Willits feels he’s close to being back to full strength after an injury-riddled 2008. If that’s the case, the Angels have another weapon in their offensive arsenal. Willits hit .293 as a rookie, a club record, with a .391 on-base percentage that also was the best-ever by an Angels rookie.

One of the game’s best bunters and a solid defender at all three outfield spots, Willits stole 27 bases with an efficiency rate of 77 percent in ’07.

“Reggie can play, man,” said Mike Napoli, who has seen Willits flourish in the Minors hitting in the first and second spots in the order. “It’s good to see him get back out there and give us some spark.”

Willits was in the lineup, batting second, as a late addition after Gary Matthews Jr. experienced tightness in his lower back before the game.

“I love hitting in the two hole,” Willits said. “It gives me a chance to use what I have. I started seeing a lot of pitches and drawing walks at [Triple-A] Salt Lake before they called me up, which told me I’m getting my eye back.”

Manager Mike Scioscia applauded Willits’ performance in his first start since last Sept. 22.

“Reggie had a real good game,” Scioscia said. “It’s a good thing to see, a guy who can’t play for a little bit and does a good job. Reggie brings some things that are important to us.”

Willits and Bobby Abreu, with their uncommon ability to draw out at-bats with selectivity and foul balls, could drive a starting pitcher to distraction behind Chone Figgins, another disciplined hitter who can put together an eight-pitch at-bat.

The one familiar problem for Willits is the crowd in the Angels’ outfield. Reggie was back on the bench on Thursday.  

   

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.   

Advantage, Beckett and Boston

So here’s the deal: Josh Beckett comes up and in on Bobby Abreu after time is called by the home-plate umpire, Paul Schreiber, and the upshot is the Angels lose their Gold Glove center fielder, their manager, their hitting coach and a middle reliever.

The Red Sox? They lose nobody, nothing.

This is how if often goes in sports. It’s the player/team that responds or retaliates that usually suffers the consequences.

The Angels lost Torii Hunter, Mike Scisocia, Mickey Hatcher and Justin Speier after the benches cleared. Order appeared restored before Beckett had words with Scioscia, and that’s what incited a second incident that led to all the Angels’ ejections.

I am aware of no history between Beckett and Abreu dating to their days as Red Sox-Yankees rivals. Abreu hasn’t done much against the ace over the years — .210 coming into the game with two homers and five RBIs. But Abreu did deliver a big hit, a two-run single, that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead in the third inning.

The best Angels hitter against Beckett has been Hunter, a .455 average with a double and two RBIs in 11 career at-bats. Gary Matthews Jr., who replaced Hunter, was 2-for-15 against Beckett (.133) coming into the game.

Matthews, who unleashed a spectacular throw to first from left center, only to watch Kendry Morales drop a shot at a double play in the top of the third, grounded out in his first two at-bats against Beckett. Morales’ misplay didn’t cost the Angels. Dustin Moseley got the next hitter, Dustin Pedroia, to bounce into a double play.

  

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.

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