Kendry Morales made his spring debut on Monday at Surprise Stadium and picked up right where he left off last season — banging base-hits and driving in runs.
Morales singled home a run during a two-run first inning and singled home another in the fifth as the Angels erupted for four runs.
The reigning AL West champs saved their best offensive performance of the young spring for their division rivals, the Rangers, who were showing off new DH Vladimir Guerrero.
Maicer Izturis singled to right twice to send leadoff man Erick Aybar scurrying to third after a walk and single. Juan Rivera hammered a pair of run-producing hits, a single and double, and the big thunder came from Mike Napoli and Brandon Wood. Napoli launched one to dead center, his second homer of the spring, and Wood’s first hit landed on the grass beyond the 379 sign in right center.
Scott Kazmir, slowed by a sore right hamstring he brought into camp, will pitch two innings in an intrasquad game on Wednesday. The plan, if that goes well, is to get him to 45 pitches in a Cactus League game five days later.
Torii Hunter hopes to be able to play alongside Hideki Matsui, in his Angels debut as the DH, on Tuesday when the Padres send towering Chris Young to the mound at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Hunter felt a twinge in the area of his surgically repaired right groin on his first slide of the spring on Friday against the Rockies on a double.
“Right now, there’s no sense of urgency,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’ll play tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, a matter of days. We’re not concerned with him. If it was March 28, it’d be another story.”
Kevin Jepsen (tender right shoulder) and Scot Shields (knee surgery recovery) are down to throw 15 pitches each in simulated games on Tuesday. Fernando Rodney (sore shins) is progressing in bullpen sessions, Scioscia said. – Lyle Spencer
Bobby Abreu’s contract option for a third year is well within his reach, if his durability holds up, likely tying him to the Angels through 2012.
After he draws $9 million for each of the next two seasons, Abreu has a 2012 option for $9 million that kicks in if he makes 550 plate appearances in 2011 or a combined 1,100 plate appearances in 2010 and 2011, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
If he doesn’t reach either of those numbers, the club can buy him out for $1 million.
Given that he has had at least 667 plate appearances for 11 consecutive seasons and keeps himself in prime condition, Abreu appears to be a relatively safe bet to fulfill the three years.
If that happens, factoring in the $6 million (with $1 million in incentives reached for plate appearances) he earned this season, Abreu will average $8.25 million for four seasons in Anaheim.
That, in today’s market, would appear to be a fair and equitable figure for a man with Abreu’s production and leadership.
With Juan Rivera in left and Torii Hunter in center, and Vladimir Guerrero yearning to return to right field, this probably means the end of Guerrero’s remarkable six-year run with the Angels.
There are those who are writing off Guerrero as over-the-hill, but he had no real chance this season to get his legs under him. With a winter to heal, there’s no reason why he can’t be a productive, effective player on the field as well as at the plate in 2010.
It’s highly possible Guerrero will be next season’s Abreu, emerging as a major bargain for the club that signs him. Never underestimate Vlad’s tremendous pride, which showed up during the postseason when he re-established himself as a force in the heart of a lineup.
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.
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.
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.”
The insiders and media sharks were swirling around Angels left fielder Juan Rivera on Thursday, taking him to task for not diving full-tilt for the pop fly by Alex Gonzalez that dropped in fair territory in shallow left field on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
Gonzalez’s bases-loaded single gave the Red Sox a controversy-riddled 9-8 win, coming after Nick Green had walked on a full-count, forcing home the tying run, after the Angels felt Brian Fuentes had him struck out twice, on a checked swing and again on a 3-2 fastball at the knees and over the middle of the plate.
Rivera didn’t have much to say about it, other than, “I didn’t think I could catch it.” He went to a few teammates to see what they thought and found support.
Emphatic, unyielding affirmation came from outfield coach Ron Roenicke, manager Mike Scioscia’s bench coach.
“I saw the replay,” said Roenicke, a former Major League outfielder known for his defensive skills. “He’s not going to catch that ball. So he pulled up.
“When you go for a ball and know you can’t catch it in your mind, you pull up. I don’t want them to dive for a ball if they know they can’t get it and get hurt. From what I saw, he wasn’t going to catch it.”
Rivera didn’t appear to be playing as shallow as center fielder Torii Hunter or right fielder Bobby Abreu, but the Green Monster can distort perspectives.
“We’re playing shallow,” Roenicke said. “We were in a little bit.”
Scioscia was asked if he considered removing Rivera – who’d gone 3-for-5 with a two-run double putting the Angels in front in the seventh — for defensive purposes with the Angels leading by a run going into the bottom of the ninth. Reggie Willits and Gary Matthews Jr. would have been options.
“Vlad [Guerrero] was already out of the game [with a bruised rib cage after getting hit by a pitch], and Juan’s swinging the bat well,” Scioscia said. “Juan is comfortable out there.
“He went after it hard. If he thought he could have dived and caught it, he would. Didn’t think he had a chance.”
Rivera has had a solid season defensively in left, making several game-saving catches and unleashing strong, accurate throws with consistency.
Some outfielders, Roenicke said, are less comfortable diving full-tilt.
“Juan plays hard,” Roenicke said. “If he thought he’d have caught it, he’d have come after it. I’ve never seen him prone dive. I’ve seen him slide into a wall for a catch. Torii will dive forward, but there are not many guys who will dive forward.”
Roenicke said Rivera had not asked him about the play but anticipated that he would – and the coach’s support would be forthcoming.
Kendry Morales, MVP candidate.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out firmly in support of his first baseman in the American League’s Most Valuable Player derby,
“Absolutely no doubt,” Scioscia said when asked about Morales’ candidacy. “Look at his individual stats, what he’s meant to his team. [If you] look at what Kendry has meant to his club opposed to what other players have meant to their club, the only guy [in that category] is Joe Mauer in Minnesota.”
Scioscia alluded to Mark Teixeira, the man Morales has replaced at first base for the Angels, as a strong candidate as well. But Teixeira will likely get stiff competition from venerable Derek Jeter for MVP sentiment (and votes) on the East Coast.
As for Morales, batting .314 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs in his first full season as a regular, the campaign is getting a late start.
“It seems word travels from West to East a little slower in the game of baseball,” Scioscia said. “But I think the world of baseball knows what he’s meant to our club.”
With 274 total bases, Morales has 58 more than the next highest Angels hitter, Juan Rivera. Morales’ .598 slugging percentage trails only Mauer’s .615 in the AL, and the Cuban-born switch-hitter also is second in extra-base hits with 68.
While he’s not yet at Teixeira’s level defensively, Morales has improved by leaps and bounds with the glove, playing with visibly higher confidence as the season progresses.
Morales is coming off the best month of his career, making himself a strong candidate for AL Player of the Month for August. He batted .385, leading the league with his .734 slugging percentage and 33 RBIs while trailing only the Rays’ Tony Pena in homers with 10. Pena had 12.
By now, it would seem, pitchers would have found any serious flaws in Morales’ offensive game.
“It’s one thing figuring out what a hitter’s hole is and matching it with the pitcher’s ability to go out and [exploit] it,” Scioscia said. “Kendry’s at the stage where he’s had enough at-bats [502 plate appearances] that pitchers have an idea of his strengths, the things he can do.
“I don’t think there are a lot of secrets with what pitchers are trying to do with Kendry. Good hitters are going to have holes that are very small.”
Scioscia lifted Morales into the No. 5 hole in the order, dropping Rivera one spot, on Tuesday night against right-hander Doug Fister. This prevents righties from seeing three right-handed bats in succession: Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Rivera.
“Kendry is in a good spot to hit behind Vlad and also to break up some of the righties,” Scioscia said. “We’ll tinker with some things. The way Kendry’s swinging, it’s nice to get him behind Vlad against right-handed pitchers.
“If you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you’re looking at a different offense,” Scioscia said.
Vladimir Guerrero will make his return to the Angels lineup tonight against the White Sox as the designated hitter, batting in his customary cleanup spot between AL Player of the Month Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera.
Catcher Bobby Wilson is being returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Guerrero on the 25-man roster.
Guerrero and Torii Hunter have been on the 15-day disabled list since July 10. The Angels were 17-3 with their customary 3-4 hitters out of the lineup.
Guerrero, sidelined with a strained muscle behind his left knee, is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
Hunter, out with an adductor muscle strain on his right side, will need a little more time, manager Mike Scioscia said, because he’ll be in center field when he rejoins the lineup. Hunter could play a few Minor League rehab games this weekend to get ready.
Vladimir Guerrero “ran great today,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Sunday’s game against the Twins. Torii Hunter, also eager to get off the disabled list and get his Rawlings Gold Glove back in center field, “ran very well,” Scioscia added.
“We’ll wait and see how they come out of it. Vlad’s probably a couple of days ahead of Torii now.”
Guerrero, if all goes well, could be back in the designated hitter role by the time the Angels leave Chicago on Thursday night. Because he won’t be playing in right field for a while, if at all, the big bopper won’t need any Minor League rehab games, Scioscia said.
Hunter, on the other hand, figures to play a few games next weekend with one of the Angels’ Minor League affiliates – perhaps in his native Arkansas with the Double-A Travelers. Triple-A Salt Lake and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga are also possibilities.
“I’m dying to get off the DL,” Hunter said, frustrated by his inability to play this weekend in what would have been his farewell to the Metrodome, where his career started with the Twins.
“In Torii’s case, he’s going to most likely go down and play a few games to work his way out of stiffness connected to playing the outfield again,” Scioscia said. “With Vlad, the earlier he starts seeing Major League pitching, there’s a better chance of being productive early.”
The Angels, in a tribute to their remarkable depth and the tremendous offense generated by the likes of Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order, are 16-3 since their 3-4 hitters went on the DL together on July 10 – Guerrero with a muscle strain behind his left knee, Hunter with an adductor muscle strain on his right side.
Scioscia said Guerrero will be “somewhere in the middle” of the order when he returns but is unsure exactly how he’ll fit him in. There are a variety of lineup options.
So deep are the Angels, Napoli couldn’t find his way into the lineup on Sunday after collecting a total of seven hits in the first two games of the series. Abreu assumed the DH spot with Rivera going to right field.
With 19 hits on Friday night and 18 on Saturday night, scoring 11 runs each time, the Angels accomplished something unprecedented in franchise history, spanning 7,751 games. It’s the first time they’ve ever put together back-to-back games with 18 or more hits.
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.