Results tagged ‘ Kendry Morales ’

Mentor Abreu a daily influence

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

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

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

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

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

Morales and Rivera are in constant contact with Abreu.

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

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

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

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

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

Too early to give up on Vlad

He’s finished. Swings at everything. Can’t get around on good fastballs. Can’t run. He used to be so great. What a shame to see him like this.

We’ve heard this before about Vladimir Guerrero.

One year and one month ago, to be precise.

Guerrero came into June last season in a sub-.250, horrendous slump. Doomsayers were writing him off left and right, claiming age — he was at least 45, right? — finally had caught up with the Angels’ great right fielder.

Well, he had a fairly strong response to that, if you’ll recall. Going on an absolute tear, Vladimir Nizao Guerrero, from Nizao, Dominican Republic, finished the season at .303 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs.

Considering how dismal his first two months had been, those numbers were a little astonishing. They enabled him to join Lou Gehrig as the only players in history with at least 25 homers and a .300 or higher batting average for 11 consecutive seasons. Nice company to keep,the Iron Horse.

The streak stops this season. There is no way Vlad is going to reach 25 homers, having stroked just one in his first 132 at-bats. The Angels are hoping the power stroke comes back a month later than last season, when he began to drive the ball in June and carried it to the finish line.

He is having a hard time getting any lift in his swing, grounding into eight double plays, more than one-sixth of the team’s total. In situations where he needs a fly ball, he’s rolling over and hitting ground balls to shortstop.

Manager Mike Scioscia and the staff have talked about moving him down in the order, to relieve whatever pressure the big bopper is feeling. But he was back in the No. 4 spot on Wednesday night for the series finale against the Rockies, between Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera, the club’s most productive hitters this season along with Kendry Morales.

It has to be killing Guerrero, but he doesn’t show it. He’s the same easy-going, humble, graceful guy he’s always been. The only difference is the streamlined look atop his head, making him look quite a bit younger than his 34 years.

“Right now,” Scioscia said, “he’s searching for some things. He’s a little frustrated. He has taken on challenges [in his career] like not many guys I’ve seen. It’s incredible, as banged up as he’s been, to put the numbers up and perform at his level. He’s as good as it gets in taking challenges.

“He’s expanded his zone and is long to the ball in some of his at-bats. Where his bat path is right now, he’s going to work hard to adjust that. Mickey [Hatcher, hitting coach] has been working with him on some things. He needs at-bats — move him [down] in the batting order, a day off. Hopefully, with some of these small adjustments he’s going to feel comfortable and start driving the ball the way we know he can.”

Guerrero, who went 3-for-3 in San Francisco in a pinch-hitting role, will return to that duty against the Diamondbacks when the Angels wrap up Interleague Play in Phoenix over the weekend.

That will have him rested for a series against the Rangers in Arlington, where he has a history of crushing balls. Maybe he’ll find himself deep in the heart of Texas — and quiet the critics again.    

Guerrero starts to throw

It wasn’t all gloom and despair in the Angels’ dugout before Monday night’s game against the Giants with Kelvim Escobar going to the DL and Ervin Santana having his start on Tuesday night pushed back because of shoulder discomfort.

Vladimir Guerrero, who can light up any room with his smile, was beaming as he signed autographs before taking batting practice.

The big bopper started his throwing program on Monday — small steps, but important ones — and you just know he can’t wait to get back on the field.

“It felt good,” Vlad said through that luminous smile. “It’s a start, right?”

We have these conversations where I speak Spanish and he speaks English, and they can be immensely enjoyable to both of us. When he bounded into the dugout with Maicer Izturis and Kendry Morales and I said, in Spanish, “three handsome Latino ballplayers,” he laughed and said, “No, two.”

I have a pretty good idea which of the three he wasn’t calling handsome, but I’m not saying. It wouldn’t be good for club harmony.  

Middle threesome flourishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just trying to help, big guy.  .

Napoli can settle in as DH

The arrival of Bobby Wilson from Triple-A Salt Lake means the Angels can now have Mike Napoli’s lethal bat in the lineup every day if they choose to do so.

It seems like a slam dunk, given how Napoli has produced in the designated hitter role: 10 for 17, bullets and bombs flying everywhere.

“I like the whole DH thing,” Napoli said before Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium. “I also like catching, too.”

When Napoli catches, however, it means their best receiver — Jeff Mathis — is not in the lineup. Napoli is a big Mathis fan, being his roomie and best buddy, and vice versa. In their perfect world, they’re both in the lineup on a regular basis. And the only way that can happen is for Napoli to DH or play first base, something that could happen down the road.

Steady Robb Quinlan is Kendry Morales’ backup at first now. Quinlan is eligible for free agency after the season, and he’s expected to pursue greener pastures — and more at-bats — elsewhere. That means there could be at-bats available for Napoli at first, where he has played and played well according to teammates, in the Minor Leagues.

The whole point is to keep Napoli healthy and in the lineup. He has missed chunks of the past two seasons with injuries, playing a total of 153 games in 2007 and 2008. That’s about as many as he should play in one season, something he can do as a DH/first baseman.

It’s remarkable, given his frequent absences with shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, that Napoli has the highest home-run ratio for a catcher in MLB history — 51 bombs in 790 at-bats.

Imagine what he could do without the wear and tear of catching, with his legs, serving as his foundation, fresh in the late innings rather than worn down. 

Napoli is a good athlete, but Mathis, a high school sensation as a quarterback in Marianna, Fla., is an extraordinary athlete. He makes plays few catchers can even consider, notably on dribblers and bunts near home plate. His hands and feet are amazingly quick, and pitchers rave about his pitch selection.

“It’s incredible, the things Jeff can do back there,” Napoli said.

Angels pitchers, overall, have fared better with Mathis. His catching ERA is about a half-run lower per game than Napoli.

Wilson, with a strong arm and a presence behind the plate, also is a quality receiver — and he can hit, using the whole field.

Wilson provides protection in the late innings, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he wouldn’t hesitate to use the new guy.

All of this is temporary, it needs to be pointed out. When Vladimir Guerrero returns from his torn right pectoral muscle, presumably sometime next month, he’ll usurp the DH role until he can return to right field. But Napoli can savor the opportunity now.

“It’s a lot less stressful, DHing, than catching,” Napoli said. “You can think about hitting all the time. I watch the game — I’m still into the game — but I can go down in the video room and check out the pitcher between at-bats and do my routine I’ve developed to stay loose.”

He certainly sounds like a guy who thoroughly enjoys this role. 

Napoli, DH

Here’s how the Angels will line up against Andy Pettitte – rain is falling on a tarp in the late afternoon – at Yankee Stadium:

1. Chone Figgins, 3B

2. Gary Matthews Jr., RF

3. Bobby Abreu, LF

4. Torii Hunter, CF

5. Mike Napoli, DH

6. Howard Kendrick, 2B

7. Robb Quinlan, 1B

8. Jeff Mathis, C

9. Erick Aybar, SS

Jered Weaver, P

 

This is a big night for Napoli and his fans.Manager Mike Scioscia putting the big bopper in the DH spot could be a one-night stand, or it could be the start of something big — and productive.

Napoli has a big, long swing — and the highest home run ration in history among catchers. Critics would scoff that it’s a small sample, representing just 50 home runs, in relation to past receivers of renown such as Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella.

But Napoli is a born hitter. Jeff Mathis is a terrific catcher, young and getting better all the time. It makes great sense to have both of these guys in the lineup, as often as they can handle it. That’s why it seems like the right thing to do — Napoli as DH, catching occasionally, with Bobby Wilson summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake to back up Mathis.

Quinlan, a .417 career hitter against Pettitte with a double, two RBIs in 12 at-bats, also gets a start at first base in the wake of a rough night for Morales in the series opener. Kendry was hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times, after a recent surge of hits.

Old school to the bone, I do not like the idea of carrying 12 pitchers. I didn’t care for going to 11, frankly. I recognize that the bullpen has been beaten up a little bit in the season’s first month, but four position players off the bench reduces a manager’s options late in games. I’d rather have that extra bench player than a reliever who is there primarily to soak up innings in lost causes, after a starter has been knocked out early.

We’ll see if it lasts, Napoli as a DH, or if it’s a one-time thing. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think Napoli, with 550 to 600 at-bats and free of the physical burden of catching frequently, can hit 40 homers and drive in more than 100 runs.

“Nap’s got big-time power, man,” Hunter said the other day. “The guy can mash.”

Tonight, Napoli will be protecting Hunter, the cleanup man, in the No. 5 hole.

Surely, a factor in Scioscia’s decision is Napoli’s history against Pettitte. He’s 3-for-5 with a double. But when he’s locked in, seeing the ball well and driving it, no yard can hold him. Napoli in the batter’s box is a weapon.   

Advantage, Beckett and Boston

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

The Red Sox? They lose nobody, nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

  

Hunter scalding hot

Torii Hunter made it four homers in three games today with another blast  over the wall in center field. He knows he’s locked in when he’s smoking balls to the middle of the field, and that’s where he is right now. Before the homer, he launched one that was caught at the wall in right center that would have been gone in Texas.

Mike Scioscia has to like what he sees at the top of the order, with Chone Figgins smacking line drives all over the place and Howard Kendrick looking very comfortable in the No. 2 hole. Kendrick will learn that he’ll see a high percentage of fastballs hitting between Figgins and Bobby Abreu, who has tested pitchers’ endurance for years with his remarkable discipline.

As for Vladimir Guerrero, who crushed a double to cash in Abreu before Hunter’s bomb, everything appears to be in fine order for a 35 HR/125-RBI campaign. With Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera or Gary Matthews and Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis coming up behind the top five, the Angels are going to score runs in numbers. And Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis will serve as, in effect, a leadoff man in front of the leadoff man, Figgy.

I don’t think what we’re seeing this spring, this offensive explosion, is an aberration, a case of cleaning  up on bad pitching. This is a good offense — and it could be a great offense if the big guns (and the top two) stay healthy. And even if they don’t stay healthy, they won’t lose a thing if  Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez or Reggie Willits stand in for a spell.

The Angels have enough position players to field another quality Major League team. It almost isn’t fair when you see what they have in relation to what some other clubs are putting on the field.   

Willits forced to sit one out

Center fielder Reggie Willits was a late scratch for Monday’s Cactus League game against the Rockies in Tucson with tightness in the adductor muscle in his left leg. There was no immediate word on the severity.

Willits was on base in all three of his at-bats on Sunday with a single and two walks. He was replaced in center field by Terry Evans, with Adam Pavkovich inserted in right field.

Jeff Mathis got the Angels rolling with a solo homer against lefty Franklin Morales. A single by Kendry Morales and Brandon Wood’s RBI double handed John Lackey a 2-0 first-inning lead, and he shut down the rockies in the bottom half of the inning with solid command in his first outing of the spring. 

Daydream believer

On a gorgeous Sunday in Tempe, the mind wanders briefly, and here is what settles in: A massive deal involving the Angels and Padres.

Ten for two.

From Anaheim to San Diego go the following: Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Kevin Jepsen, Erick Aybar, Freddy Sandoval, Matt Brown, Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits and Terry Evans.

From San Diego to Anaheim: Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.

The Padres get a new team, virtually, and the Angels have a powerhouse that causes tremors throughout the game.

Bud Black adds three starters (Moseley, Adenhart, Loux) while subtracing one. He gets a future closer in Jepsen. He gets a superlative shortstop in Aybar and a kid from Tijuana (Sandoval) who can play three infield positions and hit. He gets a quality corner infielder in Brown and a first baseman in Morales to replace Gonzalez. He gets an outfielder (Willits) who can play all three spots and will produce a 370-.380 on-base percentage  and 40-50 steals leading off as an everyday player. And he gets a power hitter in Evans who can leave any yard.

Mike Scioscia gets one of the best pitchers alive in Peavy and a first baseman in Gonzalez who is very close to the equal of Mark Teixeira. The Angels still have plenty of quality reserves left over, owing to an astonishing stockpile of talent. Yes, they add payroll with Peavy and Gonzalez, but the long-term benefits are immense.

The Padres get almost 60 years worth of contracts at an immediate cost of roughly $4 million for the 2008 season. The Angels have Peavy and Gonzalez locked up for at least three more years apiece. This would not be a half-season of Teixeira.  

Peavy gives the Angels the Majors’ dominant rotation; Gonzalez is a No. 4 hitter who, free of PETCO Parks dimensions, hits about 40 homers and drives in close to 140  runs behind Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.

Win, win. Everybody wins, once Padres fans realize that even with fan favorites Peavy and Gonzalez, they are looking at potentially a long, long season. Guys like Aybar, Willits, Morales, Adenhart and Jepsen would form a solid foundation for years to come.

Granted, there’s not much likelihood something like this would come to pass. But hey, a guy can daydream, can’t he? Isn’t that what Spring Training is all about?

  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.