Results tagged ‘ Chone Figgins ’

Abreu in exclusive company

ANAHEIM – Bobby Abreu sat at his locker before Sunday’s game at Angel Stadium against the Athletics, engrossed in a showdown between the Yankees, his old team, and the Red Sox on a flat screen TV.

Abreu reached another personal milestone in a season loaded with them on Saturday night: 100 RBIs for the seventh year in a row. Only Albert Pujols has done that, but Abreu was reasonably certain a former teammate – Alex Rodriguez – would be joining them shortly.

“Alex has 94,” Abreu said, nodding toward the wide-screen TV. “He should get there without much trouble.”

Abreu clearly was pleased – and relieved – to have reached 100 with a two-run homer, his 14th, in the fourth inning of what was to be a 15-10 loss to the sizzling Athletics on Saturday night.

“That’s a good one,” Abreu said, “Albert and me . . .  and Alex coming.”

Abreu has been made aware of another milestone in his reach. He’s one steal away from 30, which would bring him in the company of Barry Bonds as the only players to combine at least 30 steals and at least 100 RBIs in five seasons.

Abreu last did it in 2006, the season he split with the Phillies and Yankees. In the Bronx, A-Rod coming up behind him, Abreu wasn’t encouraged to steal. With the born-to-run Angels, he has the green light to go when he sees the opportunity, and he has succeeded on 29 of 37 sprints.

“Bobby’s a very smart baserunner,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”

In terms of career numbers, what impresses Chone Figgins — who lockers next door and is usually immersed in baseball conversation with Abreu – is the fact that the right fielder has scored more career runs (1,265) than he has driven home (1,184).

“You can only score them one at a time,” Figgins said. “You can drive them in two, three, four at a time. That shows you how much Bobby’s been on base – and how well he has run the bases.”

Abreu was back in the No. 2 spot in the order on Sunday against Edgar Gonzalez, with Erick Aybar batting ninth in front of Figgins, giving him, in effect, two leadoff men to set the table.

 

Scioscia tries something different

As promised, Angels manager Mike Scioscia shuffled his lineup for Saturday night’s game, trying to find some missing chemistry – and runs – after going 0-for-19 the previous two games with runners in scoring position and striking out a total of 28 times.

Bobby Abreu was bumped up to No. 2 from No. 3, with Torii Hunter assuming the spot between Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero. Giving Erick Aybar a day off and taking over at shortstop, Maicer Izturis was placed in the No. 9 spot, giving the Angels a pair of table-setters in front of Abreu.

Two RBIs shy of 100 for the seventh straight year, Abreu has not been himself lately. He is in a 2-for-27 slide with 14 strikeouts, an uncommonly high number for a guy known not only for his ability to work counts but to put the bat on the ball and move it around the field.

By hitting Abreu second, Scioscia might free him up from thinking about driving in runs in favor of putting the ball in play behind leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins.

Abreu, 35, has 640 plate appearances in 145 games, trailing only Figgins among teammates. It could be a case of mental fatigue setting in for Abreu, who has made 119 starts in right field, 10 in left and 12 as a DH.

“I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue,” Scioscia said. “We talk to him every day to make sure he’s moving in the right direction. He feels fine physically. Mentally, he’s as strong as anybody I’ve been around.

“I don’t think that’s an issue. He’s been through pennant races. For a while he started squaring it up, but lately, obviously, he’s trying to find some things.”

Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have been spending most of the time in the No. 9 spot with Abreu batting third. The start in that spot is the fourth for Izturis, and the Angels are unbeaten with him in the No. 9 hole.

“In theory, there are more options [with Izturis in front of Figgins],” Scioscia said. “We’re going to try to connect our hitters with this lineup, and the situational look is going to have to come from the bottom.”

Despite their recent struggles, eight of the nine hitters in the lineup were at .288 (Juan Rivera) or higher, but only three – Figgins and Kendry Morales (both at .301) and Hunter (.300) — were at .300 or better. Mathis is batting .209.

Guerrero, in quest of a 13th consecutive season batting at least .300, comes in at .296.

Even with their 0-for-19 the past two games, the Angels still lead the Majors in hitting with runners in scoring position at .295 and lead in overall batting average as well at .284.

 

 

Figgins back in groove

ANAHEIM – Angels third baseman Chone Figgins has done several things this season better than anybody in the American League.

He has reached base 274 times heading into a three-game weekend series against the Athletics, and he has 98 walks. Leading the AL in both categories, he also is tied for the lead in runs scored (109) with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

Back-to-back three-hit games against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday brought Figgins back over the .300 mark, to .301. His .399 on-base percentage has him tied for fifth in the AL with the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, the only leadoff man to get on base that frequently.

With a .471 stretch through his past 17 at-bats, Figgins has put a .188 stretch in 32 at-bats in his rear-view mirror.

“You’re not always going to get hits to fall,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Even thought hits weren’t falling, he was still getting on base, walking. That’s what makes him a dynamic offensive player. He can get on base even when he’s not swinging the bat well. He’s done that.”

It was Bobby Abreu, arguably the most disciplined hitter in the sport, who pointed something out to Figgins early in the season that his next-locker neighbor has not forgotten.

“Bobby said, `You’re a good hitter. Be more selective. Because you’re a leadoff hitter, that’s what’s going to set you apart.’ He said, `You may not get two hits in a game, but going 0-for-2 with two walks and scoring two runs, you’ve had a great game.

“He said I could do that without taking away my aggressiveness. You get a pitch to hit, go after it. It’s interesting what has happened this year. I’m getting a lot of first-pitch changeups, curveballs. They’re showing me respect. They know if I get a pitch I can handle, I can drive it.”

Figgins has five homers for the season, but two have come in the past four games. He is four runs away from matching his career high of 113 from 2005.

With 42 steals, third in the AL, he’s 20 away from his career high set in that same 2005 season when he played a career-best 158 games and batted .290.

Having played a team-high 149 games, Figgins could finish with 159. But it’s not likely he’ll continue to play every game in the aftermath of a third consecutive American League West title.

On top of his endurance and offensive productivity, Figgins is clearly a strong candidate for the AL Rawlings Gold Glove for his brilliant play at third base. 

 

Hunter sits as Scioscia lobbies for Figgins, Aybar

 

Torii Hunter, gradually regaining strength in the area of his right adductor muscle, was not in the Angels’ lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Indians at Progressive Field, with Gary Matthews Jr. in center field.

Hunter also will take a day off in Toronto, where the Angels engage the Blue Jays in a three-game weekend series on the artificial surface at the Rogers Centre. Look for Hunter to be back in the No. 3 spot in the order in Toronto, between Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.

“I’m good,” Hunter said, on his way to take batting practice in the inside cages. “They’re being careful with me, and even though I never want to come out, I understand.”

While the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner rested, manager Mike Scioscia was joining the campaign for Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar, promoting the Gold Glove candidacies of his left-side infielders. Figgins at third and Aybar at shortstop have been brilliant and steady all season.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Scioscia said of Figgins’ worthiness of Gold Glove consideration. “There’s not a third baseman in our league playing at a higher level.”
Asked if the same view applied to Aybar, Scioscia nodded.

“Erick makes very tough plays look manageable, routine, with his arm strength,” Scioscia said. “There’s no shortstop who makes the 4-6 double play turn better than Erick, nobody.”

Scioscia had to reach deep in his memory bank to find names when he was asked if anybody else could have made the play Aybar delivered in Baltimore, robbing fleet Brian Roberts of a hit from deep in the hole with a leaping bullet to first.

Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston were shortstops of the past who crossed Scioscia’s mind as having the arm strength and athleticism to make a play like that . . . but “nobody” in today’s game.

Figgins, drafted as a shortstop by Colorado, has started at six positions in the Majors, finally settling in at third base in 2007 on a full-time basis.

“It feels good to get some recognition for what I’m doing defensively,” Figgins said. “It took a while before I really thought of myself as a third baseman, but that’s what I am now. I’d be flattered to be considered for that [Gold Glove]. Growing up, my man was Ozzie [Smith], and I’d love to get one.”
The Wizard of Oz won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for the Cardinals. The two-time reigning Gold Glove third baseman in the American League, Seattle’s Adrian Beltre, has missed 39 games this season.

Aybar’s model at shortstop as a kid was the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal, the player he most resembles. Michael Young, last year’s Gold Glove shortstop in the AL, was moved to third base this year by Texas to accommodate the arrival of Elvis Andrus.

Young succeeded Orlando Cabrera, who claimed the 2007 Gold Glove in an Angels uniform, with Aybar as his understudy.

Figgins sits one out

Chone Figgins was in an unfamiliar position at his locker on Sunday morning.

For only the second time this season — not since April 26 — he wasn’t getting emotionally prepared to start a game.

“I’ll be ready for whatever they need,” he said. “But I don’t like sitting. Mike [Scioscia] knows that.”

Scioscia also knows everybody can use a breather now and then, so Maicer Izturis was in Figgins’ familiar role, playing third base and leading off, giving the manager a chance to play all three of his talented middle infielders – Izturis, Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick.

“He’s played a lot,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know how many games in a row [he’s played], but a day off can refresh him a little bit. He’s a gamer. It’s a good time to get him to re-charge a little.

“There’s nobody in that room who’s not resistant to a day off, but you need to mentally re-charge.”

Figgins’ streak of consecutive starts ended at 92. He’d last sat one out on April 26 against the Mariners, with Aybar taking the leadoff spot.

Before the season, Figgins said his goal was to “play all 162,” referencing iron man Cal Ripken Jr. Maybe he’ll settle for 160.

Izturis and Figgins are locker neighbors in the home clubhouse, with Bobby Abreu on the other side of Figgins. Izturis is the least talkative of the threesome, but he’s always smiling.

“Izzy is my boy,” Figgins said. “If anybody’s going to take my place, I’m glad it’s him. He keeps me together.”

Izturis looked over and, naturally, smiled.

 

    

Matthews feeling validated

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.”

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.
 

What a season this is becoming

I’m sitting here in the Dodger Stadium pressbox, where I’ve spent hundreds of days and nights, watching Manny Ramirez circle the bases after unloading a first-pitch grand slam — on Manny Bobblehead Night, of all nights.

Mannywood erupts in front of me. He’s second all-time to Lou Gehrig in grand slams with 21, and I doubt the Iron Horse ever made an entrance like the one Manny did when he was summoned by Joe Torre to bat for pitcher Chad Billingsley.

Manny came out to a thunderous roar and swung the lead bat seemingly for five minutes before Reds manager Dusty Baker emerged from the dugout to replace Bronson Arroyo with Nick Masset.

Moments later, Manny was at the plate, swinging a hunk of wood, the crowd going wild. And the ball was sailing into the box seats in the left field corner, Manny circling the bases like the 12-year-old kid he is at moments such as this.

And here I sit thinking that this is shaping up as one of those summers we might not forget in Southern California.

The Angels just roared from behind in Kansas City, behind mighty mites Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis and Reggie Willits, for another exciting victory, and they’re coming home on a roll. They’re doing all this winning without Torii Hunter, their best player, and without Vladimir Guerrero, their most feared hitter, and lately without Juan Rivera, who is having a tremendous season.

Mike Scioscia pushes buttons, athletes run out on the field, and the Angels win games.

I had an email from a reader the other day berating me for calling Figgins an MVP candidate. Why he was so livid about this, I have no idea. He claimed to be an Angels fan and couldn’t believe I would have the audacity to write such a thing. I was actually quoting Scioscia, but that seemed not to matter.

Well, I don’t see why Figgins can’t be an MVP candidate, just as I see no reason why Hunter, in the midst of his best season, also can’t be in the running.

I can’t see why the Angels can’t keep winning, and the Dodgers can’t keep winning, and we can have a magical summer all the way into October.

What would be better than that, an I-5 World Series, if you’re a  baseball fan in Southern California?

Funny, I was just talking about that subject tonight with Dodgers infielder Mark Loretta, who played for the Padres when they were a pretty decent team. As we were talking, Ramirez — out of the lineup after getting drilled in the hand on Tuesday night — walked by,pointed to Loretta and Ausmus, turned his hand inward toward his chest, and said, “Too much money on the bench tonight.”

Not long after that, I was sitting in the visitors’ dugout talking with Eric Davis. He was wearing a Reds uniform and looking good in it, and he was talking about how Manny had “transformed” the Dodgers the day he arrived with his personality.

“He takes everything on, and frees up everybody else to just play,” Davis said. “They watch Manny and realize that he’s just a big kid having a good time. That kind of thing has a big influence on a young team. You can see what it did for the Dodgers. It transformed them.”

Eric, one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, was right. He was up in the pressbox, not far from me, when Mannywood exploded yet again. Davis was hardly surprised.

“He loves the game, everything about being a baseball player,” Davis had said as we sat in the dugout. “He is a joy to be around for teammates. Look at him out there, just a big kid having fun.”

At that moment, playing shortstop during batting practice, Ramirez hurled a baseball into the visitors’ dugout several feet away from Davis and beamed.  

Ah, yes. There’s magic in the air these days and nights. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are wonderful places to spend a summer night. 

Wood debuts at first base

Brandon Wood, with all of five professional games of experience at the position, found himself on the lineup card at first base and batting seven against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Sunday at Angel Stadium.

“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Wood said. “I’ve played enough there now at [Triple-A] Salt Lake to get a feel for it. It’s definitely a different look and feel, but I’m getting more comfortable every time I play there. By the third or fourth game, I was checking things off: I can do that, I can do that.

“One thing I didn’t realize is how much is involved at first in terms of physical activity – all the squatting, moving around. I find that my legs are more tired after playing first than at short or third.”

A shortstop all his life, taken in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wood has been the gem of the farm system since ’04. He has been brought along slowly – the Angels are loaded with quality players at shortstop and third base – but has shown clear signs in limited opportunities this season of putting it all together.

His first three starts this season have been at third base, where he has excelled spelling Chone Figgins. Wood made a superb back-handed stab on Saturday, robbing Johnny Damon of a hit in the fifth inning, and responded in the bottom half of the winning with a homer to right center against Andy Pettitte. It jump-started the Angels’ offense, and they went on to prevail, 14-8.

Wood had two hits against Sabathia in New York on May 2, including an opposite-field single that ignited a decisive rally.

“A play like the one Woody made can give you a boost of confidence,” teammate Reggie Willits said. “I’ve seen that carry over to your next at-bat – and you saw what happened. Woody has big-time talent, no question about it.”

Wood agreed that his defensive contribution might have sharpened his focus in his at-bat against Pettitte. He was ahead 3-1 in the count when he went after a pitch down and on the outer half of the plate and sent it rocketing into the seats in right center.

“He has ridiculous power,” Willits said. “I’ve seen him hit some shots you wouldn’t believe in the Minors.”

Wood, who swung at only two of Pettitte’s first 10 pitches on Saturday, walking in his first at-bat, is making an impression on the man in charge.

“Brandon is making significant strides, offensively and defensively,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s looked good at first in Salt Lake. He’s athletic, with good hands, and he is taking to it well, just as he did at third.”
 

 

Wood gets crack at Pettitte

Brandon Wood was in the Angels’ lineup on Saturday against Andy Pettitte, getting a start at third base with Chone Figgins awarded a day off his busy feet to serve as designated hitter.

Wood welcomes any chance to face anybody, even if it’s one of the game’s premier southpaws. He made one of his two starts for the Angels this season at New York against CC Sabathia, collecting a pair of singles in three at-bats. He went the other way with a single to contribute to a decisive rally against the Yankees’ ace.

The slugging gem of the Angels’ system for four years, Wood also had a single in two at-bats against Pettitte during one of his appearances at home last September when he got his first taste of consistent Major League playing time at shortstop.

“I’ll go check with Torii [Hunter] and some of the guys about how to approach him,” Wood said of Pettitte, who is known to bring his cut fastball in on right-hander’s fists. “Two at-bats help, but Torii has seen him a lot longer than I have.”

Wood, hitting .333 for the Angels with nine at-bats, was batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was recalled on Friday with Hunter (strained adductor muscle) and Vladimir Guerrero (strained muscle behind his left knee) going on the 15-day disabled list.

“Woody can help us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t want him sitting around getting one start every 10 days. There’s a role for him to get at-bats and contribute.”

A natural shortstop coming out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003, Wood has made excellent strides at third base and lately at first in an effort to expand his horizons and make him more attractive to Scioscia.

He has sure hands, an accurate arm and an easy, gliding manner in the field calling to mind a young Cal Ripken Jr.

With a grin, Wood said, “All I can ask for is a chance to play and contribute. It’s exciting every time I get on the field.”
 

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