Results tagged ‘ Erick Aybar ’

Bourjos, Trout: Who’s swiftest?

Thoughts on a few hot topics of the day:

 
Peter Bourjos vs. Mike Trout

Who’s faster? And where will they play when they’re in the same outfield?

These are questions I get all the time. There is no definitive answer to the matter of speed. My guess is Trout is more explosive in the first 20 to 30 yards, but Bourjos would catch him and nip him at the wire at 100 yards. Everyone would like to see them race, but it’s actually better this way, keeping the debate alive as we watch these two  phenomenal athletes grow into whatever they become.

My guess is that Bourjos, with great reads and a better arm, will remain in center field and win close to as many Rawlings Gold Gloves as his mentor, Torii Hunter, who owns nine. Bourjos is already the best, in my view, and can only get better.

Bourjos has the ability to be a highly productive offensive player, hitting in the .280 to .320 range consistently with 50 to 70 steals. He has the hand and bat speed and the willingness to put in the necessary work to make it happen.

Trout’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel-esque: colorful and enormous. I’m not sure he’ll ever be quite as good as Bourjos defensively, but he’ll be close. And he has the talent to be one of the game’s best total hitters. Still not quite 20, he won’t come into his power for a few more years, at which time I think you’ll see him land in the 25-30 homer range with triple digits in runs scored and RBIs. He has the tools to contend for batting titles.

With Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu coming back, there’s no need to rush Trout. But he might force his way into the outfield rotation next season. If he does, I see him in left. And that’s where I see him for a long time, giving the Angels the best left fielder in the game to go along with the premier center fielder, Bourjos.

Something else to ponder: Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Trout forming the fastest, most electric top third of a batting order anyone has seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Aybar is almost as swift as Bourjos and Trout.

Oh, and the guy hitting behind them, cleaning up by driving in loads of runs? Mark Trumbo. This guy is on his way to becoming one of the game’s most feared power hitters. He has the skill and the will and, the most underrated part of the formula, rare common-sense intelligence.

The best is coming for Angels fans. Patience is no virtue, I understand, when it’s all about winning RIGHT NOW. But there’s a whole lot of gold here waiting to be mined in the future.
Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis

The collision of the front-running Rangers, with Napoli fitting in beautifully behind the plate and in the lineup, and the pursuing Angels, with Mathis doing his customary solid defensive work while scuffling offensively, has touched off an old debate among the so-called faithful.

A small segment of fandom seems to appreciate what Mathis has done for a pitching staff that has been the foundation of the Angels’ success. A much larger segment preferred, and still prefers, Napoli’s booming bat. Now that Nap also is putting together an impressive catcher’s ERA with a superb Texas staff, his supporters – and those who just don’t like Mathis – are coming unglued on web sites attacking Mathis, manager Mike Scioscia for playing him, and yours truly for defending him.

The venom is totally out of proportion to the reality, but when emotion gets involved, all logic goes out the proverbial window. I’m an idiot, and so is Scioscia, evidently, for continuing to defend and, in Mike’s case, play a guy WHO CAN’T HIT .200.

Numbers, thrown out to defend any position, now hold the game hostage. It’s all about all these categories I can’t even define. Watching and enjoying the game is secondary now. Sometimes it’s as if the stat people would be thrilled if they just stopped playing the game altogether and let them give us the results through their computers. Everything is so cut and dried, preordained statistically, they might as well do that.

In response to all those who insist I am biased toward Mathis, I would ask you to please, if you get a chance, ask Napoli our relationship when he was with the Angels. I’m pretty sure he’d tell you he had no bigger supporter, in or out of the media.

I’m thrilled to see Napoli with a big smile on his face, having a great time. He’s a good guy. So is his best buddy, Mathis. Their relationship has remained rock solid through their years of competing for playing time, which tells you a lot about both of them.

They used to joke that if you combined their talents, you’d have Johnny Bench. And that wasn’t far from the truth. Given the relative popularity of the two, it’s obvious about 95 percent of fandom would take Bench’s power over his defense.

Mathis knows he needs to hit. That’s his problem. He has to relax and let his natural athletic ability flow. He’s one of the five best athletes in the clubhouse, and if that ever happens, if he ever unlocks himself, he can be a decent offensive player.

The Mathis haters, of course, will laugh, as always. Go ahead. It’s your prerogative. Just please try not to be so hostile in expressing yourself. It cheapens your position.

Howard Kendrick vs. Howie Kendrick

Most everyone calls him Howie, but I’m sticking with Howard for one reason: Jody, his wife, calls him Howard, and so do other family members, from what I understand. If that’s who he is to those closest to him, I’ll go with that. Mike Scioscia calls him Howie because he believes there should be a separation between the athlete and the private person. Mike and I sometimes disagree.

At Spring Training a few years ago, another person close to Kendrick told me “there’s nothing Howie about him,” adding that he’s just too nice a guy to even care what people call him.

Kendrick once told me that Howie first surfaced next to his name early in his career when a bubble-gum company put that on his card. I remembered seeing (and hating) Bob Clemente, not Roberto, on a card when I was a kid. So I guess that’s another reason why I write Howard Kendrick, not Howie.

No big deal. Just setting the record straight from my perspective. – Lyle Spencer

If not Beltre, why not a reunion?

For argument’s sake, let’s say agent Scott Boras pulls another Jayson Werth out of his hat and convinces somebody – the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers — that Adrian Beltre is worth more than the $70 million across five seasons reportedly offered by the Angels.

Where does Team Moreno go from there? Is there a legitimate Plan B moving forward?

At the risk of once again alienating my growing anti-fan base, I have an idea that makes sense to me. Why not make a creative effort to bring back the 2009 Angels offense? You remember that attack, how it mauled opponents from top (Chone Figgins) to bottom (Erick Aybar) with speed and power. The amazing thing is that they continued to roll through the summer with their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, sidelined together for an extended period of time.

Figgins is now in Seattle, having endured a frustrating debut season with the Mariners, while Guerrero is a free agent after a blockbuster season in Texas, his big body healed after the multiple injury disruptions of ’09.

I could be wrong – it’s happened before – but it seems plausible that the Angels and Mariners could work out a mutually beneficial deal involving Figgins. It also is possible that Guerrero could be lured back to Anaheim with the two-year deal he is seeking that the Rangers don’t seem to have prepared for the man who made life much nicer for Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Co. with his presence.

With a need for power, Seattle could acquire power-hitting left fielder Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo, a versatile infielder, in exchange for the leadoff catalyst who was missed so badly by the Angels. Yes, Figgins is costly — $26 million guaranteed for three more years, with a vesting option for 2014. And there doubtless are some residual hard feelings that would need smoothed over in the Figgins camp over his exit in the afterglow of a career year in ’09. But couples reunite all the time, and if it serves to benefit everyone involved . . . why not?

If Figgins doesn’t reach 600 plate appearances in 2013, the $9 million vesting option for ’14 does not kick in. That’s a lot of at-bats; to get there, Figgy would have to remain healthy and productive.

Now, on to Guerrero. What would it take to bring him back? Perhaps something in thle $20 million range for two years. Given what he meant to the Angels, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. His return would quiet a lot of fans who are spewing invective these days.

Yes, Guerrero clearly benefitted from the comforts of Rangers Ballpark, and his second half wasn’t nearly as productive as the first. But a .300 batting average with 29 homers and 115 RBIs is a healthy season under any measure. During the American League Division Series against the Rays, Vlad told me his knees felt better than they have in four years, and it showed in the way he ran the bases.

Guerrero’s understated leadership qualities should not be overlooked. He had a lot to do with the emergence of Aybar, who clearly missed his big brother figure. It should be noted that Beltre, much like Guerrero, is a highly regarded clubhouse presence for his calm, easy manner and certainly is capable of filling that leadership role if he comes aboard.

A Beltre signing would be cause for celebration — even if it’s hardly a unanimous sentiment among disgruntled Angels followers who seemingly won’t be satisfied until the club reunites the 2002 offense or acquires Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols.

Beltre can play. Boston fans fell in love with him in 2010, but they realize that Adrian Gonzalez is younger with more upside and that Kevin Youkilis is now a third baseman. Otherwise, they’d be incensed in Beantown over Beltre’s departure after a brilliant season.

Much is made of Beltre’s perceived struggles in Seattle after his mammoth season with the Dodgers in 2004, but he didn’t perform that badly considering Safeco Field is notoriously rough on right-handed batters. Fewer home runs were hit there by righties (61) than in any park in 2010, and that’s a fairly consistent stat.

The Angels’ reported proposal for Beltre, at 32, seems more than reasonable. If it’s not enough, so be it. But landing Figgins and Guerrero for a total of five contract years at roughly $46 million – or six years and $55 million if the Figgins option vests – seems to be a viable alternative to five years and $70 million for Beltre.

I’m not saying it’s going to happen or even can happen. It’s just an innocent thought from someone who would like to see some much-needed holiday cheer extending into a new season. – Lyle Spencer

So many possibilities . . . like Bourjos

ANAHEIM — The Angels didn’t get any more deals done by the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make a move or two by the Aug. 31 waiver Deadline for postseason eligibility.

If they make a big move suddenly on the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the Angels could try to pluck a starting pitcher for the stretch run. The loss of Joel Pineiro was a huge blow, especially coming after Sean O’Sullivan had been included in the package shipped to Kansas City for Alberto Callaspo.

If the Angels don’t make a serious push in the next week or so, they could look to move chips of value. Among those who could pass through waivers and be dealt to contenders are closer Brian Fuentes and left-handed offensive weapons Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Other possibilities include right-handed thumper Juan Rivera – always dangerous this time of year – and a versatile infielder such as Maicer Izturis, who has two years left on his contract.

Fuentes has pitched superbly in the second half and would have appeal in a number of places. He’s unlikely to get the 55 finishes he needs to kick in his $9 million option for 2011; he’s not even halfway there with 26. Odds are he’ll be a free agent this winter, along with Scot Shields and Matsui.

Abreu and Matsui could be difference-makers in a place like the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox could use another left-handed run producer down the stretch. Abreu, especially, would have major appeal to his buddy, manager Ozzie Guillen. Abreu has $9 million coming next season and would be missed in a big way in Anaheim, but the Angels have a lot of decisions to make about their outfield in 2011.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Peter Bourjos summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake before too long — unless the Angels put some heat on the Rangers and manager Mike Scioscia likes what he sees from his outfield.

There are few players in the game as fast as Bourjos, who can outrun mistakes in the outfield and place enormous pressure on an infield if he makes consistent contact. He has been making progress offensively at Salt Lake, to the point where he might not be overmatched hitting in the No. 9 hole.

After a long season spent chasing down drives in the gaps, and having turned 35, Torii Hunter might welcome some time in right with Bourjos bringing those swift, young legs to center. Like Andre Dawson, one of his youthful idols, Hunter could be reaching a point in his illustrious career where a move to right is career-extending. The man has done all he can in center, with those nine consecutive Rawlings Gold Gloves as evidence.

It has been my view for a long time that the one impending free agent who would have the most dramatic impact on the Angels next season is Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford.

Like Hunter and Dawson, Crawford – whose speed is right there with Bourjos’ – could be at a point in his career where he sees long-range benefits in leaving behind the artificial turf of Tropicana Field for a grass field. A nice, refreshing place such as Southern California likely would have appeal to Crawford, who hails from Houston.

Leading off and playing center or left, the dynamic Crawford would transform the Angels, putting the juice back in the offense with Erick Aybar sliding into the No. 2 spot. Defensively and on the basepaths, Crawford has few equals. – Lyle Spencer
    
 

Kendrick No. 2 in new lineup

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going with a new look starting tonight against the A’s and Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.

 

Here’s the lineup Scioscia plans to go with for now, with Maicer Izturis due to come off the disabled list (right shoulder tightness) next week and assume a larger role in the 1 or 2 spots:

 

1. Erick Aybar, SS

2. Howard Kendrick, 2B

3. Bobby Abreu, RF

4. Torii Hunter, CF

5. Kendry Morales, 1B

6. Hideki Matsui, DH

7. Juan Rivera, LF

8. Mike Napoli, C

9. Brandon Wood, 3B

The Angels were 60-35 last season with Abreu batting third and 27-19 when Hunter hit cleanup. These were their best records with those hitters in those roles. Only Vladimir Guerrero (43-39) batted fourth more often than Hunter. — Lyle Spencer

 

 

The good, the bad . . .

In the afterglow of a 3-1 triumph and three-game weekend sweep of the Blue Jays . . .

 

THE GOOD

With two outs in the sixth, Erick Aybar still on second after a leadoff double, Hideki Matsui unloads on a Ricky Romero fastball and sends it rocketing one-hop off the center-field wall to snap a scoreless deadlock for Ervin Santana. Before the game, manager Mike Scioscia talked in some detail about how Japanese hitters spend hour after hour trying to gain a perfect balance at home plate. At times it appears Matsui is leaning back as he takes his swing, falling away, but he manages to keep his bat in the hitting zone and drive the ball. He did it again in the ninth, igniting what proved to be an important two-run rally. This is an amazing hitter, a man who thrives under pressure.

 

THE BAD

These sparse, disinterested Blue Jays crowds. I know it’s Stanley Cup time, and it’s cold, and the Jays haven’t been good for a long while, and they traded Roy Halladay. But this is not good. I’ve always defended Canadian baseball fans, and I truly miss Montreal, one of the world’s great cities. But the Jays aren’t that bad. These “Lyle” chants, zeroing in on the slumping first baseman, are not worthy of such an urbane city. The Jays drew for these three Angels dates what they once attracted for an average regular-season game. Sad.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL

Ervin Santana, when he’s on his game, is a tremendous pitcher. He was dealing with supreme confidence from the outset Sunday. Trouble surfaced twice in the early going, and both times he reached back and made quality pitches, leaving runners in scoring position. His fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range – not quite where it will be when he gets in a warm-weather groove – and his slider and changeup were dancing. He thought his change was his best pitch, and he should know. If he maintains his rhythm, flow and confidence, the Angels could have a rotation full of All-Star candidates after a rough first two spins through the cycle. - Lyle Spencer

 

The good, the bad . . .

TORONTO – While watching Joe Saunders duel fellow lefty Brian Tallent on a very cold Saturday in Canada . .

.

THE GOOD

Howard Kendrick, in the No. 2 hole for the first time this season, powers the eighth pitch of the day by lefty Brian Tallet into the seats in left center for a 2-0 lead following Erick Aybar’s five-pitch walk. Kendrick used to hit behind Aybar in the Minors and will be a dream No. 2 hitter with experience. He drives the ball almost as hard to the opposite-field as one of his role models, Derek Jeter, who always offers encouragement when they share the same field — as they did for three days at Yankee Stadium.

THE BAD

Brandon Wood, a terrific young athlete trying maybe a little too desperately to find his way, finally takes his offensive struggles to the field with errors on consecutive plays. He misplays a hop on the carpet, creating one unearned run, then bounces a throw past first baseman Kendry Moralels for another unearned run. These are mistakes Wood does not make when he’s feeling in tune with the planet, but that isn’t the case at the moment.

THE UGLY


There’s something terribly unsettling about Rogers Centre these days. It’s like watching a horror film alone in an empty theatre on a dark afternoon – and hearing lonely voices screaming and hollering “Lyle!” in the distant reaches. They’re all over that other Lyle, Overbay, for his terrible start, and it can’t be doing the Blue Jays first baseman any good. I know it isn’t doing much for me.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL

“O Canada,” the civilized world’s most beautiful anthem, sung by anyone with a decent voice. I used to get chills coming to the old Montreal Forum and hearing the legendary Roger Doucet do his tenor version before Canadiens games. There was something majestic about that voice and that song, unlike anything I’ve heard since. — Lyle Spencer  

High bar for Aybar

ANAHEIM – Like Chone Figgins, his former partner on the left side of the Angels’ infield, Erick Aybar is practicing what Bobby Abreu preaches.

Patience and the confidence to hit with two strikes are essential ingredients, Abreu maintains, in the makeup of any quality hitter – especially one who leads off for his team.

“A five-pitch at-bat is great,” Abreu said. “If a leadoff man is doing that, he’s doing the job. A 10-pitch at-bat? Wow. That’s twice as good.”

Abreu was in the on-deck circle Monday night at Angel Stadium when Aybar set a tone in the season opener with his 10-pitch walk against Twins starter Scott Baker.

By the time the inning was over, Aybar and Torii Hunter had scored on singles by Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera, and the Angels’ offense was rolling again. The thunder would come a little later from Jeff Mathis, Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales, but it was the new generator, Aybar, who put it all in motion.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons here,” said Abreu, a quiet 0-for-4 in the opener. “Aybar has come a long way. He’s getting there.

“I give him credit for an outstanding job last night. He had good at-bats all night, working counts every at-bat. As he gets more confidence, he’s going to be more dangerous.”

Aybar singled twice in three official at-bats, seeing a total of 24 pitches and scoring two of the Angels’ runs in a 6-3 decision.

“I’ve learned a lot from watching Bobby and Figgins both, the way they hit,” Aybar said. “They’re very patient in working counts, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“I’m more patient than last year. I’m staying back and seeing the ball well. It’s important to stay confident even if they get two strikes on you. They still have to throw the ball over the plate.”

Aybar led the Angels and tied for eighth in the American League last year with his .312 batting average. The electric shortstop had a .353 on-base percentage.

Figgins’ .395 on-base percentage in his final season with the Angels might appear out of Aybar’s reach, but keep in mind the 26-year-old Dominican Republic athlete did elevate his OBP 39 points from 2008 to ’09. If he does that again, he’ll be at .392.

After recovering from a right elbow sprain, Aybar burned up the Cactus League, hitting .571 in his final 28 at-bats. He finished the ’09 season scalding-hot, hitting .337 in his final 72 games, with 27 multi-hit games.

A switch-hitter with blinding speed, Aybar primarily batted eighth and ninth last season. In his 35 starts as the No. 2 hitter, between Figgins and Abreu, the Angels were 26-9. They won his only start as the leadoff man, a role Figgins occupied 158 times.

“We saw some things in Erick’s game this spring that were impressive,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “To get your leadoff guy seeing 24 pitches, which he did last night, that’s a big part of what a guy who sets the table wants to do.

“One game doesn’t make a season, but what we saw from Erick was very encouraging.”

Aybar’s big-brother figure, Abreu, is watching . . . from the on-deck circle. – Lyle Spencer

 

 

Santana `right on time’

TEMPE, Ariz. — After missing a rotation turn banging his elbow against a couch, inflaming the bursa sac, Angels right-hander Ervin Santana made up for lost time on Sunday.

Throwing 84 pitches and giving himself a stamp of approval, Santana put himself on track for a start against the Twins in the third game of the season at Angel Stadium. He expects to reach 100 pitches or thereabouts in his final spring tuneup on Friday against the Dodgers in Anaheim.

“I felt good — very good stuff today,” Santana said. “Good changeup, sliders, a lot of strikes. That’s the most important thing. My velocity was very good.

“One more, and then I’m ready for the season. Right on time.”

The Angels didn’t do much right in a 15-5 pounding by the Tribe, but something to feel good about surfaced in the angular form of Santana.

He lasted 4 2/3 numbers, and the raw numbers – six hits, two walks, five earned runs – were deceiving. He was in command through three scoreless innings, and if not for a few hits finding holes and the sun blinding center fielder Torii Hunter on a lazy fly ball, he’d have escaped with a better bottom line.

“Better it happens now than in the season,” Santana said, grinning.

He felt his slider, thrown at different speeds, was especially effective combined with his lively fastball and changeup.

Manager Mike Scioscia saw nothing but encouraging signs from his 2008 All-Star right-hander.

“Ervin actually threw the ball very well,” Scioscia said. “I was excited to see the ball coming out hot like that. It matches what he had earlier in the spring. He’ll be ready to go. That was a great outing for him.”

After Santana struck out the last man he faced, Shin-soo Choo, reliever Jon Bachanov yielded a double that cashed in a pair of Santana’s runners. Matt LaPorta followed with a homer, and the Tribe was rolling.

“I feel strong,” Santana said. “I just missed a start because I hit my elbow on a couch. It happens to everybody.”

The Angels are hoping he’ll be careful sliding into couches from April through October.

Santana missed the first five weeks of the 2009 season with forearm tightness and never really found a consistent groove. His fastball was down 3-4 mph, in the low 90s. At his best, it comes in at 94-97 — red-hot out of his hand.

“Last year he never really had his good fastball,” Scioscia said. “He was a little banged up in Spring Training. He’s moved forward. The ball’s coming out of his hand hot. You saw his stuff today.”

In his first two Cactus League starts, Santana didn’t allow a run and gave up only two hits in five innings, striking out five without a walk. He pitched in a camp game before the incident with the couch.

Fernando Rodney, the new setup man, had his worst outing of the spring. The hard-throwing right-hander walked three of the five men he faced and yielded four earned runs, earning his only out with a leadoff strikeout before losing command.

“He was just yanking it, pulling it out of the zone,” Scioscia said. “He’s fine.”

Howard Kendrick slammed a two-run double in the fourth and Brandon Wood drilled a pair of hits, driving in a run for the Angels. But the offensive highlight of the day was provided by leadoff man Erick Aybar when he scored all the way from first in the third inning on Hunter’s single to right center. Aybar, who walked and singled, has reached safely in 10 of his past 15 plate appearances.

“Erick, we’ve talked about his speed,” Scioscia said. “He ran through all the bases hard. That’s part of the package Erick brings. He’s had a nice week in the leadoff position and did the job today.” — Lyle Spencer

 

Back stiffness grounds Izturis

TEMPE, Ariz. — Angels infielder Maicer Izturis left Saturday’s game against the Giants at Tempe Diablo Stadium with stiffness in his back during his only at-bat, grounding into a double play in the second inning.

“He felt a little stiffness in his back, mid-back, on one of his swings,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said following a 4-3 victory. “He’s fine. It was a precaution. I don’t think it’s going to be more than a couple days. He might feel good tomorrow. He might be ready when we have our split-squad [games on Monday].”

Izturis, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal this winter, is having a strong spring, hitting .351 in 37 at-bats. He provides quality support at third base, shortstop and second base, where he was stationed on Saturday with Howard Kendrick getting a day off.

Angels starter Joe Saunders “felt good, real good” about his 4 1/3 innings, yielding three earned runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out six men, including three in a row after loading the bases with singles in the fourth.

“When the heat’s on like that,” Saunders said, “you can treat it like a Spring Training game or say, `Hey, let’s get out of this and minimize damage.’ I tried to get ahead of guys and threw a little bit of everything.

“In the fifth, I fell behind a couple guys and threw a two-seamer to [Bengie] Molina. He got extended and dropped the barrel on it. I fell behind 1-0 and had to come with a strike. He’s a good hitter.”

Molina rocketed a three-run double after two walks and a single to give the Giants the lead, but the Angels rallied for two in the sixth against Barry Zito. Erick Aybar, who has reached base safely eight of his past 12 plate appearances, walked and scored on Torii Hunter’s double, Hunter scoring on Hideki Matsui’s RBI single. Aybar had singled in front of Bobby Abreu’s homer in the third to right center, Abreu’s second of the spring.

Scioscia liked the offensive continuity and Saunders’ work – until he lost command in the fifth. The lefty went to the bullpen to finish his work.

There were several positive developments with the pitching staff. Scott Kazmir, saying he was “completely over” left shoulder stiffness that took him out of his most recent start, threw a 60-pitch power bullpen and is set to go on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe.

The bullpen excelled after Saunders’ departure, starting with young right-hander Bobby Cassevah. He induced a double-play grounder to end the fifth and worked a perfect sixth. Kevin Jepsen, Scot Shields (working his second day in a row) and Fernando Rodney each delivered scoreless innings, Rodney closing it out by striking out two of the three men he faced in the ninth. – Lyle Spencer

 

 

Matsui gets a look in left

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers, the Angels’ Hideki Matsui gets his first start in the outfield today since June 15, 2008 when he plays left and bats fourth.

Hindered by knee problems, Matsui did not play at all in the outfield for the Yankees last season, limiting him to designated-hitter duties only. He took full advantage of his three DH appearances in the World Series to claim the Series MVP award for his bashing of the Phillies for the Bronx Bombers.

“He could play in Fenway Park or anywhere,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked why he chose to play Matsui in the outfield in an unfamiliar park. “He needs to get his prep steps, how he feels during games and – even more important – the next day.

“If you’re going to play a full game, you’re talking about 150 prep steps if the pitchers throw 150 pitches. Not that he’s going to play a full game – I imagine it’ll be somewhere around four innings.”

Matsui has been making gradual progress in outfield drills, strengthening his knees while reacquainting himself with the terrain.

“There’s a team element in defense that needs to get pushed forward,” Scioscia said, alluding to the coordination Matsui and center fielder Torii Hunter need to develop. “With Matsui, it’s understanding range with Torii, where he needs to go. It’ll just take a little time for Hideki to get their range down.”

Signed to a one-year, $6 million free agent deal, Matsui expressed a desire to be given a chance to return to the outfield at least on a part-time basis.

The Angels’ plan is to give him a few starts in left a week, if possible, to provide DH opportunities for the other outfielders: Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, along with Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli on occasion.

After missing a week and a half with a strain in his right elbow, shortstop Erick Aybar returned to the lineup on Monday against the Dodgers, leading off.

Scioscia said he did not play Brandon Wood on Sunday against the Mariners at home because he wanted his third baseman to sharpen his coordination with Aybar in a camp game.

“Left side defense is as important as anything you’re going to do,” Scioscia said. “The third baseman has to cover the hole. With Wood and Aybar, we worked on it yesterday. We also had Morales and [Howard] Kendrick on the right side stay back one day to work on it.”

This is the closest Scioscia has come to having his projected lineup together. Jeff Mathis was a last-minute insertion as DH when the Dodgers – using a split squad with a second game against the Brewers — notified the Angels they were freeing up the DH role.

With Matsui in left and Mathis occupying the DH spot, Juan Rivera was the only name missing from the lineup that is expected to be on the field when the Angels open the season on April 5 at home against Minnesota.

Freeing up the DH allowed Scioscia to switch back to Joe Saunders as his starter after deciding he’d go with Matt Palmer under National League rules.
 
Following Aybar in the lineup are right fielder Abreu, center fielder Hunter, Matsui, Morales, Kendrick, Napoli at catcher, Wood and Mathis.

They’ll be facing right-hander Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pickup bidding to nail down the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is pitching in Phoenix against the Brewers. - Lyle Spencer

 

 

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