Results tagged ‘ John Lackey ’

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Predictably, the Angels’ acquisition of Vernon Wells at the expense of Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera has the critics howling. They do that largely because that’s what they’re paid to do, and you can’t really fault a person for that. It’s the carping of fans that is somewhat baffling.

The Angels just landed a three-time All-Star at 32, with four years on his contract, for two players who might not have had starting jobs but will get shots to play every day in their new environment. You have to be reaching hard not to like that.
 
The big talking point is Wells’ huge contract, which wouldn’t have been an issue back in the day when it was the game that mattered, not economics. If I’m an Angels fan, I ignore this aspect of the deal. Arte Moreno gave it his OK. If he doesn’t have to raise ticket prices, the bottom line should be of no concern.

The statistical focus has been on a decline in Wells’ metrics defensively, his struggles against left-handed pitching in 2010, his home/road splits showing a significant preference for Toronto cooking, and his career-long struggles at Angel Stadium.

These can all be addressed with logic and good sense, if that counts for anything in these stressed, high-anxiety times.

Center field and artificial turf are a deadly combination. Because of the nature of their position, with the constant stopping and starting and ranging deep into gaps, centerfielders suffer more than anybody else on turf. The demands on the extremities are extremely stressful.

Over time, the body feels the effects, and the player’s performance usually reflects the deterioration. This applies to his offense as well as his defense. This is a difficult game to play when you’re healthy; when you’re banged up, it’s a bear.

From 2004 through 2006, Wells was one of the three American League Rawlings Gold Glove outfielders, along with Torii Hunter, who was on his way to nine in a row. If neither man is the defensive player he once wals, it’s perfectly understandable – predictable, even. But both men are lucky in the sense that they have escaped the turf now and are resuming their careers on God’s green grass.

It is for this reason that I feel Wells will be best served moving to left, with Hunter in right, the two old pros surrounding a marvelous young talent, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos’ metrics in his two months with the Angels last season soared off the charts. He is capable of being the best in the game in center, and having the wisdom of Wells and Hunter off his shoulders will be immeasurably helpful.

If Bourjos relaxes and hits in the .250 range at the bottom of the order, he’ll be of tremendous value. And the Angels will have an outfield with few, if any equals.

Now, on to Wells’ statistical oddities in 2010.

He flourished at home, with a stat line (batting average, on-base, slugging) of .321/.363/.628 compared to .207/.301/.407 on the road. It happens to every player over the course of a career. His career numbers are closer: .286/.339/.505 at home; .274/.321/.446 on the road. He has hit 124 homers in Canada, 99 in the U.S. If he performs better in front of his family, that’s not necessarily such a terrible thing.

He definitely had a bad year against lefties: .195/.289/.354 in 113 at-bats. More representative of his prowess, it seems, is his career slash line in 1,485 at-bats against southpaws: .296/.359/.484.

And, yes, he has not hit to his customary level in Anaheim, where his slash line for his career is .226/.267/.340. But he would say that has more to do with the likes of John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields and friends than the ballpark, which he happens to love.

Here are the numbers that should be the focus with respect to Wells’ 2010 All-Star season if you are an anxiety-ridden Angels fan: .515, ninth in slugging in the AL; 31 homers, 44 doubles, 304 total bases, seventh in the AL in each category; 460 feet, fifth longest homer in the AL; 1.000, his fielding percentage as one of two regular outfielders in the Majors (151 games played) to commit not a single error, Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez being the other.

One more Wells fun stat line from 2010: 6-for-10, four homers, seven RBIs in three games. That’s what he did at Rangers Ballpark, back home in Arlington.

The man is a weapon, a pro’s pro. By all accounts, he’s a calm, generous individual who distinguishes his profession on and off the field.

My advice to fans who have endured a fitful, angry winter is to calm down and get ready to enjoy the show. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it could be something to behold. It’s a lot healthier to take that attitude than to drive up your blood pressure needlessly. – Lyle Spencer

 

Baffling All-Star selections

CHICAGO — Too bad Major League Baseball no longer showcases a second All-Star Game.

With Jered Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Howard Kendrick denied invitations to represent the American League in the All-Star Game in their home park, the Angels are not alone in their frustration and confusion.

So many qualified players were overlooked this season, MLB could stage a second Midsummer Classic with those neglected athletes and it would be almost as talent-rich as the one that will unfold on July 13.

I was dumbfounded when I learned Weaver, leading the Majors in strikeouts with a 2.82 ERA and 8-3 record, wasn’t chosen. I figured he was a dead-solid lock. You can make a strong case that he has been as good as any starter in the league, rising to the challenge of replacing good buddy John Lackey as the no-nonsense, no-doubt ace of the staff.

In fact, Weaver was that guy last season but nobody seemed to notice. This should be his second straight year in the All-Star Game, but he’ll be home with family members, pulling for Torii Hunter to represent his team with his customary passion, style and grace.

Hunter was visibly distressed when he learned that Weaver and Kendrick, who has been durable and productive, didn’t get the call. It stripped from Torii much of the satisfaction he took from earning the vote of his peers.

But even there, I was baffled. How could Jose Bautista of Toronto claim 10 more votes from the players than Hunter, who finished sixth in the players’ balloting? Sure, he’s hit a lot of home runs this season, but in no way, shape or form does Bautista compare with Hunter as a total performer.

The players’ infatuation with the Blue Jays, currently one game below .500, was puzzling. Vernon Wells is having a terrific season, but he’s not in my view the player Carl Crawford is. Yet Wells collected 64 more player votes than Crawford to finish third, ahead of the Rays’ star.

And don’t even get me started on the catching outcome. Toronto’s John Buck was third on the players’ ballots, ahead of Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, arguably the most underrated player in the game. The only area of the game where Buck compares with Suzuki is in lifting big flies.

By taking Suzuki, rather than Buck, to replace injured Victor Martinez on the AL roster, manager Joe Girardi could then have taken Weaver rather than right-hander Trevor Cahill, the Athletics’ representative. A promising right-hander, Cahill is having a solid season, but he is not in Weaver’s class yet.

In Suzuki and Weaver, the AL would have two truly deserving, no-doubt All-Stars.

Yes, Weaver is due to work on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game, making him ineligible to pitch in the game. But that didn’t prevent Girardi and the AL decision-makers from selecting CC Sabathia, whose spot was awarded to Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte. If Nick Swisher, running second behind Kevin Youkilis in the Final Vote, joins the party, that would be eight Yankees All-Stars, if you’re counting.

Hunter, as the lone All-Star from the Angels, clearly must be the league’s MVP at this point in keeping his team in the hunt for what would be a fourth consecutive AL West title.

As for the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler getting the call over Kendrick, the players could not have been paying enough attention to what these two second baseman have done this season. Kendrick clearly has been the more productive performer, given all the games Kinsler has missed.

The lack of respect shown the Angels was just as glaring with their neighbors to the south. Padres manager Buddy Black, Mike Scioscia’s former pitching coach, has done a masterful job with that club. The Padres had at least three richly-deserving pitching candidates for the big show and none got the call.

Judging by the performances of their teams, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, like Hunter, must be the MVP at the midway point of the season. The first baseman is the only representative of the club with the NL’s best record.
 
One final thought, regarding the phenom: Stephen Strasburg should be in this game. The whole point of elevating the importance of the All-Star Game in attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner was to make sure that the best players competed at a high level and didn’t coast through the game.

If you’re the NL, and you’re serious about ending the AL’s run of dominance, you want Strasburg on the mound for an inning or two. You can’t tell me there are 13 better pitchers in the National League than this kid. I’m not sure there are three better than Strasburg. – Lyle Spencer    

 

The good, the bad . . .

In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .

THE GOOD

The offense comes alive with lightning (steals by Jeff Mathis, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter), thunder (towering homer to right-center by Kendry Morales) and artistic merit (opposite-field, two-out RBI strokes by Abreu and Hunter back-to-back; two-out run-producing hits by Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis that proved decisive). These are the Angels you came to know and love last summer. Let’s see if it lasts a while.

THE BAD

Two pitches in bad places, a fastball by Jered Weaver up in Vernon Wells’ wheelhouse leading off the second inning, and a curve by reliever Jason Bulger that Adam Lind lost in the right-field bleachers in the eighth.

THE UGLY

Artificial turf. Yes, it’s functional, in a twisted sort of way, and it’s nice that they can shut the roof and play when it’s stormy and freezing outside. But I’m sorry, I never could stand the stuff, from the moment I first saw it at the Astrodome so many years ago, and I still can’t take the fake grass after all these years. It’s sinful what it did to Andre Dawson and Eric Davis, to name two of many.

THE BEAUTIFUL

Everything Weaver did through besides unleashing two fastballs in the wrong places to Wells and Randy Ruiz in the eighth. The big kid who used to follow John Lackey around is becoming The Man before our very eyes, with the look, stuff and attitude of an ace. It’s a beautiful thing indeed if you’re an Angels fan.

A strong contender was Mathis’ athletic play in pouncing on a ball that skipped away from the batter’s box and erasing Lind trying to move up to third in the seventh inning. Very few catchers make that play. Mathis is an elite class defensively, and his eight-game hitting streak is starting to suggest that his postseason offensive eruption was no fluke. — Lyle Spencer

 

Kazmir session goes well

Scott Kazmir came to camp with a right hamstring “tweak” that he sustained, he said, in early January in his workouts at home in Houston.

But he managed to get in three mound sessions before coming to Tempe for Spring Training, and the Angels’ talented southpaw made it through a five-minute bullpen on the mound on Sunday despite damp conditions at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

“It went well,” Kazmir said. “I’m feeling good. They’re being a little cautious with me, but it’s early. No reason to push anything.”

Kazmir, a two-time American League All-Star who turned 26 on Jan. 24, was 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Angels after arriving in an Aug. 28 trade with Tampa Bay last season. He finished the season 10-9 overall with a 4.89 ERA, missing about five weeks in May and June with a right quadriceps strain.

“If all our starters go through their progressions,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “all five should be ready [for Opening Day].”

The Angels opened last season with John Lackey and Ervin Santana on the disabled list, and they were devastated by the death of Nick Adenhart in the first week.

Because of the damp grounds, Scioscia limited some activities, but overall he was content with the workout.

“As long as we get our bullpens in, we’re fine,” he said.

 

Familiar faces fortify division rivals

If you can’t beat ‘em, sign ‘em. Or deal for ‘em.

That seems to be the shared philosophies of the Mariners and Rangers, who have been busy importing former Angels as they try to overtake the three-time American League West champions.

Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman have moved to Seattle, giving the Mariners superior defense, quality offense and a whole lot of desire.

Texas, meanwhile, has upgraded its bullpen with Darren Oliver joining Darren O’Day and given the offense another lethal weapon with Vladimir Guerrero bringing his bat to an Arlington playground he has made look very small in his six AL seasons.

All that’s left is for the Mariners, Rangers or A’s to sign free agent Garret Anderson, who’d look especially good in Seattle with best buddies Figgy and Kotchman.

The Mariners and Rangers certainly have improved with these moves. Seattle also added a second ace to its rotation, with Cliff Lee joining Felix Hernandez for what could be the best 1-2 punch in the division. Texas also brought in a potential ace in Rich Harden, but it surrendered one when it sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore. It remains to be seen how beneficial that will be, hinging almost entirely on Harden’s ability to get through a season intact.

The Angels are looking primarily within to replace the departed, having thus far limited their acquisitions to DH/left fielder Hideki Matsui and reliever Fernando Rodney. It says a great deal about the depth of organizational talent that they can do this and remain confident that they’re still the team to beat in the division.

Their deal for Scott Kazmir at the Aug. 28 deadline enabled the Angels to let John Lackey go to Boston for a king’s ransom. They wanted the big Texan back, but not for five years and $82.5 million.

A fifth starter to complement Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana remains a priority, and it’s likely the Angels will get their man – if not now, sometime this spring. There are at least al dozen legitimate candidates out there, a market glut that could bring prices down to a reasonable level.

Of the AL West clubs, Seattle has made the most dramatic moves, obviously. If they’re going to claim the division, they’ll do it in a style reminiscent of the ’60s Dodgers: dominant starting pitching, defense and speed. They don’t have anything close to the power of the Angels or Rangers, but their defense should be the best in the game.

It is remarkable, in a sense, that the Angels’ biggest advantage over the vastly underrated division is their offense.

For years, fans have fired off emails by the hundreds expressing disenchantment with a lack of clout. But this is an offense that should roll up big numbers again with Matsui driving the ball in the middle of the order and Brandon Wood, if he fulfills his potential, bringing another loud bat to the mix at third base.

Their overall balance and depth make the Angels the team to beat again. You’ll hear differently from insiders who want to be able to boast in October that they told you it would be Seattle’s year, or Texas’ year. They conveniently forget those predictions when the Angels prevail.

Recent history shows rather conclusively you’ll save face — and money – if you resist betting against Mike Scioscia and Co.

A pause for praise

 

There are so many things to respect and admire about the Angels. Here are some that leap to mind in the afterglow of one of the franchise’s greatest triumphs:

The tireless commitment of Torii Hunter, who represents every day, in every way. A guy couldn’t have a better teammate. When you play with Torii, you know he’s got your back, without hesitation, no questions asked.

The quiet assurance and endearing presence of Bobby Abreu, who walked into a new room and won it over from day one with his style, elegance, humor and wisdom. I had no idea he was this good a player and this brand of leader. If the Angels can’t keep him, they’ll be losing much more than hits, walks, RBIs, runs and steals. They’ll be losing a whole lot of class.

The unique greatness of Vladimir Guerrero. He seems oddly undervalued and underappreciated in this era where so much value is attached to working counts. Sure, he takes some wild swings. But he has been one of the most feared and productive hitters of this or any era, and it was so sweet to see him deliver at the big moment on Sunday – right after Abreu, a clutch hitter with few peers, came through.

The astounding athleticism of Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar on the left side of the infield. It doesn’t get any better than this. Figgins and Aybar have more range and stronger arms than any left-side combo in the past 35 years.

That’s how long I’ve been covering the sport – too long, some would say – and I’ve never seen a better third-base coach than Dino Ebel. He does his homework, knows every outfield arm in the game, stays on top of every possibility and rarely makes a bad decision.

The way Figgins keeps improving, simply by being so dedicated. He is totally immersed in the game, driven to succeed. He struggled finding hits against the Red Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of what would have been an inside-the-park homer – but Figgy worked a huge walk against Jonathan Papelbon during the big rally and has a history of delivering in New York. As with Abreu, Figgins’ many gifts would be hard to replace as he ventures into free agency.

Jered Weaver’s emergence as a sturdy, dependable top-of-the-rotation starter, smart, resourceful and – most of all – extremely tough under duress. He learned his lessons well from John Lackey, his mentor.

Lackey’s true grit.

The style and competitive natures of lefties Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay made this team complete. He’s a keeper.
 
The very real and productive mutual respect catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli continue to display. In another environment, this could be a toxic situation, but these guys have been so close for so long, nothing could pull them apart – not even competition over who catches which pitcher and how often.

Along those same lines, the way Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick have handled their second-base platoon with such uncommon grace. Both are everyday players and know it, but they’ve created not a single ripple of discontent over sharing a job.

Kendry Morales’ intelligence. By wisely taking advice from his elders (Abreu, Mickey Hatcher) and controlling his aggression, he turned all that potential into production and accomplished the impossible in making fans get over Mark Teixeira’s loss.

Young relievers Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen holding up under a heavy workload and holding it together in front of Brian Fuentes.

Fuentes: 50 saves. How can you not appreciate that? He might not be a prototypical closer with premium gas, but the guy gets outs, and that’s the whole idea, right?

The strength and consistency of Juan Rivera, a rock-solid left fielder, and the manner in which Gary Matthews Jr. handled his very difficult role – and came through repeatedly in the clutch.

The enduring cool of Darren Oliver. Nothing rattles this guy. A pro’s pro.

The way Ervin Santana retained his humor while searching for the right stuff to come back after elbow issues made for some long nights.

The big, good-natured manner of Matt Palmer, who came out of nowhere to deliver much-needed innings and wins and went so respectfully to the bullpen, embracing any role handed him. Nobody appreciates wearing a big-league uniform more than this guy.

The willingness of Robb Quinlan, Reggie Willits, Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson to do whatever is needed to bring their team closer to a win. Even if it’s not something that will show up in a boxscore.

Shane Loux, Dustin Moseley, Kelvim Escobar and Justin Speier, who did their part until they parted, and and all the young pitchers who helped stitch this crazy-quilt pitching staff together over the long haul.

The inner strength of Mike Scioscia, who navigated the most turbulent of waters this season with remarkable calm. Manager of the Year, no doubt. Manager of the Decade? Absolutely.

The dedication of coaches Hatcher, Ron Roenicke, Mike Butcher, Alfredo Griffin, Ebel, Orlando Mercado and Steve Soliz. Wise is the manager who surrounds himself with strong, independent thinkers willing to put in long hours for the greater good.

The way everyone mourned respectfully and continually honored the memory of Nick Adenhart, one of the best and brightest, gone much, much too soon.

Kazmir mirrors Adenhart

Scott Kazmir was throwing the longest pre-game toss I’ve ever seen a few minutes ago, from the warning track in left center at Fenway Park all the way across the outfield to a spot about 40 feet from the right-field foul line.

Finishing his long toss, Kazmir threw some flat-ground deliveries and headed for the bullpen, casually tossing a ball into the crowd on his way.

The Angels’ southpaw looked like a kid in the park, having a good time, which is how I would expect him to be. He loves this type of challenge, pitching on the big stage. If the Red Sox beat him in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, it won’t have anything to do with Kazmir being intimidated by the crowd or the moment.

He’s a pure-bred athlete, a former high school QB in Houston who simply loves to compete.

Among the many things I’ve grown to like about Kazmir is that he reminds me so much of Nick Adenhart. I was thinking about this on the long flight from LA to Boston. Those quiet moments alone are when I generally start thinking about Adenhart and the tragedy. I knew him and cared deeply about him, and it still hurts every day.

Kazmir didn’t get to know Adenhart, which is a shame, because I’m sure they’d have become fast friends. On the other hand, it’s possible Kazmir wouldn’t be here if a drunken driver hadn’t killed Adenhart, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson in the early hours of April 9.

It is entirely possible Adenhart, if not for that act of criminal insanity, would have been pitching Game 3 of this series.

Having uncovered some missing ingredients in his delivery, and recovering his confidence, which had sagged in 2008, Nick was just getting started in what would have been a breakout season when his life ended so prematurely at 22.

That’s not just my opinion, that Adenhart had stardom in his future. Those who knew him best – teammates and especially catchers – are convinced he’d have had a big year, and then many more.

Kazmir is right there with you, in the moment, when you’re talking with him. He’s not somewhere else. He has that cool, easy manner that Nick embodied, an effortless grace that marks the premier athletes. Adenhart studied video of past greats and loved hearing stories about pitchers from previous eras. He laughed as I told him stories about some I’ve covered through the years, especially former Dodgers and A’s star Bobby Welch. Welch was so much like Adenhart, and now we have Kazmir, too. It’s comforting.   

Kazmir’s arrival on Aug. 28 changed the season for the Angels. It gave them a sense that they had everything they needed now. Veterans privately expressed shock that Tampa Bay would let a talent like this get away, and that the Angels would be lucky enough to land him through a waiver deal.

“This guy is really, really good,” Bobby Abreu said that day. “I love that we got him. I’ve faced him – I know how tough he is. He is really going to help us.”

John Lackey and Jered Weaver were brilliant in Anaheim, but this, of course, is a different venue. The Red Sox will feel the energy of the crowd, and if they regain their confidence, they can be dangerous.

The Angels have a cushion, but they are advised to do everything possible to finish off Boston today. You don’t want the Red Sox gaining momentum and feeling good about themselves again.

 

Angels have 6:37 p.m. PT start times

Assuming the Yankees choose the longer of the two American League Division Series and open at home on Wednesday against the survivor of Tuesday’s Tigers-Twins showdown, the Angels will kick off their series against the Red Sox on Thursday evening at 6:37 PT.

The game will be televised by TBS and carried on radio by ESPN.

Game 2 of the Angels-Red Sox series also would start at 6:37 p.m. PT on Friday evening. It too will be carried by TBS and ESPN radio.

If the Yankees choose the shorter series, the Angels and Red Sox would meet at 3:07 p.m. PT on Wednesday in Game 1. Game 2 would remain at 6:37 p.m. PT

The Yankees, by virtue of owning the league’s best record, have the option of choosing the longer or shorter of the two series. They have good reason to want to open on Wednesday, given the short turnaround it will be for the winner of Tuesday’s one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins in Minnesota, which will be carried by TBS at 2:07 PT.

 

The Angels, with the AL’s best record last season, chose the longer series against the Red Sox.

In any case, the Angels’ John Lackey will face Jon Lester in Game 1.

Projecting playoff rotation

Ask Mike Scioscia if he’s pondering his playoff rotation, and he’ll give you a look he used to reserve for pitchers who threw at his head.

This is a man who simply won’t discuss October baseball until the Angels have reduced their magic number to zero.

That leaves it to those of us in the business of speculation to, well, speculate. If the playoffs were to begin tomorrow – a lovely thought, actually – the Angels would be welcoming the Red Sox to Angel Stadium, a modern facility with all the amenities not found in the creepy-crawly visiting clubhouse at storied Fenway Park.

After careful evaluation of performances from the recent past and very recent past, here is how your correspondent would anticipate the Angels’ starters shaping up for Games 1 and 2: John Lackey and Jered Weaver.

Lackey, the acknowledged ace and staff leader, also has been on a very nice second half roll. He has been the Game 1 starter the past two seasons against Boston, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be matched up against Josh Beckett again, as in 2007, or Jon Lester, as in 2008.

Weaver has earned the Game 2 start as the club’s most durable starter all year, and he has done his best work at home.

As for Game 3, the nod here goes to the new guy, Scott Kazmir. He has pitched effectively in Fenway Park over the years, and there’s just something about the guy that makes you feel he’ll be on top of his game when it counts most. He’s an athlete, an old Texas football player, and his stuff – always good – figures to elevate a notch with October adrenaline.

The big question, then, is deciding between Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana for Game 4 in Boston. Both have had quality games there, but Saunders, overall, has been the more effective of the two in Fenway Park.

Saunders gets the call for that reason, and also because Santana has fared well in October relief assignments. He prefers to start, but he’s also smart enough to know he’s in some high-caliber company here, and it’s no insult to be dispatched to the bullpen in favor of a man with Saunders’ tools and attitude.

So, there you have it. Scioscia will not be happy when he sees this – I’m sure I’ve violated some sort of code of ethics in doing this. But it’s something that is on a lot of fans’ minds at the moment, and a guy trying to make a living in hard times has to do what he can to please the customer.

 

 

 

Big night for Evans, Willits, Wilson

In the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 win in Boston, as significant a victory as the Angels have produced this season in some respects, three September call-ups were on the field in support of Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes – including the man calling the pitches, Bobby Wilson.

Reggie Willits was in left field, where Juan Rivera had opened the game, and Terry Evans was in right, which had been occupied by Gary Matthews Jr.

Willits dropped a perfect bunt to set up the winning run in the top of the ninth, scored by Evans as a pinch-runner, and Evans squeezed the final out.

Wilson blocked a few balls that could have been trouble and once again handled himself with confidence and poise at the most difficult position on the field.

“That’s big for guys like us,” said Evans, a graceful athletic with a lean but muscular frame, “to know they have the confidence to put us out there in a situation like that, a big game on the line. It gives us confidence, as well. It’s huge.”

Evans had another big year at Triple-A Salt Lake alongside Willits and Wilson, as well as Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Freddy Sandoval, Chris Pettit and the rest of the Bees’ formidable lineup. Evans, Wilson and Wood are out of options, meaning they’ll either be with the Angels next season or available to other clubs unless they’re included in deals.

“Anything we can do to contribute, we’re happy,” Evans said. “It can be the smallest thing. For us, that’s our role here. We have such a great lineup, we know what our roles are. And it’s exciting to get a chance to make any kind of contribution.”

Evans and Pettit have been used as pinch-runners late in games, freeing Willits for a role he is beginning to master: dropping a sacrifice bunt in conditions far more difficult than any casual fan would realize.

“It’s something he’s been great at, and it helps if they can hold him back for those spots,” Evans said. “Chris can run, and Freddy can run a little bit too. Reggie can do so many things, he’s a good guy to have around late in games. Plus, with Bobby catching, they can save [Mike] Napoli for pinch-hitting situations.”

Wilson has caught 11 innings this season, his pitchers yielding two earned runs. He made a game-saving, ninth-inning save of a ball in the dirt in Oakland when John Lackey (nine innings) and Fuentes combined for a 1-0 shutout in 10 innings.

Wilson was sent to Salt Lake after that Aug. 4 game, making it a bittersweet day.

“I love it any time I put on the gear and get a chance to play,” Wilson said. “We all want to be in there, and it was great that Terry, Reggie and I were all on the field together.”

“Especially,” a grinning Willits said, his bunt having set up Howard Kendrick’s game-winning single, “when we win.”

Evans had gone in to run for Rivera after his leadoff walk against Red Sox lefty Billy Wagner.

“With more bench strength, especially pinch-running,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “it’s a way to infuse some speed into a situation. The baseball experience of the Major Leagues, cutting their baby teeth, is a big step for these younger players. September is important.”

 

 

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