The Angels’ Maicer Izturis, giving Erick Aybar a night off at shortstop, was hit in the right arm by a pitch from the Rays’ David Price in the fourth inning and was forced to leave the game with what was described as a “contusion of the right elbow.”
Aybar replaced Izturis at shortstop to start the fifth inning of a scoreless game. There was no immediate report on the extent of the injury as Izturis was being examined and evaluated by Dr. Lewis Yocum, team orthopedist.
Izturis, who struck out in the first inning batting second in the order, is hitting .301. Over his past 35 games, the versatile infielder is batting .328 with 27 RBIs. He has scored 35 runs in his past 38 starts.
Izturis has been hampered by hamstring and hand injuries the past two seasons.
Chone Figgins was in an unfamiliar position at his locker on Sunday morning.
For only the second time this season — not since April 26 — he wasn’t getting emotionally prepared to start a game.
“I’ll be ready for whatever they need,” he said. “But I don’t like sitting. Mike [Scioscia] knows that.”
Scioscia also knows everybody can use a breather now and then, so Maicer Izturis was in Figgins’ familiar role, playing third base and leading off, giving the manager a chance to play all three of his talented middle infielders – Izturis, Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick.
“He’s played a lot,” Scioscia said. “I don’t know how many games in a row [he’s played], but a day off can refresh him a little bit. He’s a gamer. It’s a good time to get him to re-charge a little.
“There’s nobody in that room who’s not resistant to a day off, but you need to mentally re-charge.”
Figgins’ streak of consecutive starts ended at 92. He’d last sat one out on April 26 against the Mariners, with Aybar taking the leadoff spot.
Before the season, Figgins said his goal was to “play all 162,” referencing iron man Cal Ripken Jr. Maybe he’ll settle for 160.
Izturis and Figgins are locker neighbors in the home clubhouse, with Bobby Abreu on the other side of Figgins. Izturis is the least talkative of the threesome, but he’s always smiling.
“Izzy is my boy,” Figgins said. “If anybody’s going to take my place, I’m glad it’s him. He keeps me together.”
Izturis looked over and, naturally, smiled.
Perhaps no player better embodies the Angels’ remarkable organizational depth and versatility than Sean Rodriguez, who is emerging as their new Chone Figgins with his ability to play capably all over the field.
“From the perspective of being an everyday player, he’s opened up a new dimension being able to play the outfield every day,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Wednesday as Rodriguez was back with Triple-A Salt Lake following two superb games in left field in Minnesota over the weekend. “He’s got enough thunder in his bat to play corner outfield. He can play second base every day, shortstop, third base. He’s a baseball player, a terrific athlete.
“The way he handled himself on the defensive end [at the Metrodome] is a plus. We’ve seen glimpses of the power he has. He’s putting it together.”
The Angels elected to return Rodriguez to Salt Lake and keep Reggie Willits on the 25-man roster because of Willits’ ability to do multiple things late in games — pinch run, get a bunt down, hit-and-run — and his superior experience in center field, where he’ll support Gary Matthews Jr. in Torii Hunter’s absence.
Rodriguez, a natural center fielder who played there at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami, transformed himself into a quality middle infielder after signing with the Angels in 2003 as a third-round choice in the First-Year Player Draft.
Developing his infield skills while hitting with power as he climbed the organizational ladder, Rodriguez returned to the outfield, playing all three positions along with the infield, to enhance his appeal as an all-purpose talent. It helped Figgins carve out his career, and now, having settled in full-time in one role, he’s one of the game’s elite third basemen.
Summoned to the big club from Triple-A Salt Lake, where he’s been pounding Pacific Coast League pitching all season, all Rodriguez did in two starts in Minnesota was lash a pair of singles and make two excellent defensive plays in his first start in left field, then bang a homer over the center field wall the following day.
Arriving in Chicago, Rodriguez learned that he was heading back to Salt Lake to make room for Vladimir Guerrero, coming off the disabled list after recovering from a muscle strain behind his left knee.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Rodriguez said. He couldn’t hide his disappointment, just as Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson days before him.
Scioscia raved about the impression made by the 24-year-old Rodriguez last season at second base during a lengthy stretch in May with Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis both injured.
“This guy can play the game,” Scioscia said.
Rodriguez is batting .290 at Salt Lake with 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 81 games. Wood is batting .316 in the PCL with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 74 games, while Terry Evans checks in at .290 with 22 homers, 76 RBIs in 105 games. Rodriguez has a narrow edge over Wood in slugging, .603 to .597, with Evans at .526.
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.
I’m sitting here in the Dodger Stadium pressbox, where I’ve spent hundreds of days and nights, watching Manny Ramirez circle the bases after unloading a first-pitch grand slam — on Manny Bobblehead Night, of all nights.
Mannywood erupts in front of me. He’s second all-time to Lou Gehrig in grand slams with 21, and I doubt the Iron Horse ever made an entrance like the one Manny did when he was summoned by Joe Torre to bat for pitcher Chad Billingsley.
Manny came out to a thunderous roar and swung the lead bat seemingly for five minutes before Reds manager Dusty Baker emerged from the dugout to replace Bronson Arroyo with Nick Masset.
Moments later, Manny was at the plate, swinging a hunk of wood, the crowd going wild. And the ball was sailing into the box seats in the left field corner, Manny circling the bases like the 12-year-old kid he is at moments such as this.
And here I sit thinking that this is shaping up as one of those summers we might not forget in Southern California.
The Angels just roared from behind in Kansas City, behind mighty mites Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis and Reggie Willits, for another exciting victory, and they’re coming home on a roll. They’re doing all this winning without Torii Hunter, their best player, and without Vladimir Guerrero, their most feared hitter, and lately without Juan Rivera, who is having a tremendous season.
Mike Scioscia pushes buttons, athletes run out on the field, and the Angels win games.
I had an email from a reader the other day berating me for calling Figgins an MVP candidate. Why he was so livid about this, I have no idea. He claimed to be an Angels fan and couldn’t believe I would have the audacity to write such a thing. I was actually quoting Scioscia, but that seemed not to matter.
Well, I don’t see why Figgins can’t be an MVP candidate, just as I see no reason why Hunter, in the midst of his best season, also can’t be in the running.
I can’t see why the Angels can’t keep winning, and the Dodgers can’t keep winning, and we can have a magical summer all the way into October.
What would be better than that, an I-5 World Series, if you’re a baseball fan in Southern California?
Funny, I was just talking about that subject tonight with Dodgers infielder Mark Loretta, who played for the Padres when they were a pretty decent team. As we were talking, Ramirez — out of the lineup after getting drilled in the hand on Tuesday night — walked by,pointed to Loretta and Ausmus, turned his hand inward toward his chest, and said, “Too much money on the bench tonight.”
Not long after that, I was sitting in the visitors’ dugout talking with Eric Davis. He was wearing a Reds uniform and looking good in it, and he was talking about how Manny had “transformed” the Dodgers the day he arrived with his personality.
“He takes everything on, and frees up everybody else to just play,” Davis said. “They watch Manny and realize that he’s just a big kid having a good time. That kind of thing has a big influence on a young team. You can see what it did for the Dodgers. It transformed them.”
Eric, one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, was right. He was up in the pressbox, not far from me, when Mannywood exploded yet again. Davis was hardly surprised.
“He loves the game, everything about being a baseball player,” Davis had said as we sat in the dugout. “He is a joy to be around for teammates. Look at him out there, just a big kid having fun.”
At that moment, playing shortstop during batting practice, Ramirez hurled a baseball into the visitors’ dugout several feet away from Davis and beamed.
Ah, yes. There’s magic in the air these days and nights. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are wonderful places to spend a summer night.
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.”
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.
The focus has been on Vladimir Guerrero the past few days in his return from a torn pectoral muscle, but deeper struggles are ongoing with Mike Napoli and Howard Kendrick, two of the Angels’ most lethal offensive weapons.
Napoli, mired in a 1-for-24 slump, was not in the lineup on Saturday night. Jeff Mathis got the call behind the plate against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, a man Mathis has homered twice against.
Napoli was on fire in the designated hitter role, but a return to full-time catching has coincided with an offensive slumber. He lined out to center in his first at-bat on Friday night against lefty Jason Vargas before striking out twice and popping up.
Napoli’s average has fallen to .275 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 131 at-bats. Mathis is batting .229 and has 12 RBIs without a homer in 70 at-bats.
“Nap is a dangerous guy in that batter’s box,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can hit the ball out to all parts of the field, and he has a good eye. Right now, he’s just having a little trouble squaring up some pitches that he had been hitting.”
After showing signs of breaking out on the road trip to Texas, L.A. and Seattle, Kendrick is hitless in 11 at-bats on the homestand, his average plunging to 229. He came into the season with a .306 Major Leager batting average after hitting .360 in the Minor Leagues.
Maicer Izturis got the start at second after Kendrick grounded out twice and struck out on Friday night.
“It’s a little spotty,” Scioscia said of Kendrick’s progress. “At times it looks like he’s making some strides. And there are times he looks a little frustrated, trying to do too much with pitches rather than square it up. He’s working hard. It’s something Mickey [Hatcher] is paying attention to. Hopefully, some hits will start to fall.”
Meanwhile, in Triple-A Salt Lake, versatile Sean Rodriguez is getting a lot of hits to fall — more than a few landing beyond walls. He has 17 homers and 50 RBIs with a .280 average through 46 games, slugging at a .652 clip.
“Sean started slowly, but he’s been putting some great swings on the ball,” Angels reliever Rich Thompson said, having played alongside Rodriguez in Salt Lake before getting called to Anaheim. “I’ve seen Howie when he gets hot, too, and pitchers can’t do anything with him. He hits shots everywhere. That will come, I’m sure. He’s too good a hitter.”
Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick was a late scratch from the Angels’ lineup on Sunday against the Dodgers with cramping in his left hamstring. Chone Figgins was moved from third base to second, with Robb Quinlan inserted at third base.
Hamstrings raise instant red flags with Kendrick, who was limited to 92 games last season by two trips to the disabled list for a strained left hamstring — April 14 to May 29 and Aug. 28 to Sept. 21.
Figgins has been almost exclusively a third baseman this season but has extensive experience at second and can make the transition seamlessly.
Quinlan, who had been struggling offensively, is coming off his best game of the season, delivering a double and two singles in four at-bats in Saturday night’s 5-4 loss in 10 innings.
“I’m trying to get my swing back to where I had it in the spring,” Quinlan said. “It felt a lot better last night. Hatch [hitting coach Mickey Hatcher] is helping me get it back. In Seattle, everything was by me. My timing wasn’t there. It just wasn’t pretty, the two games I played there. Sometimes it takes a little time. We’re going in the right direction.”
Quinlan’s start at third is his first of the season. He has made four starts at first base and one in right field, along with three as a DH. Figgins is making his first start at second this season, having started 40 of 42 games at third.
Kendrick has made 37 starts at second, with Maicer Izturis getting five starts there. Izturis has lower back stiffness, manager Mike Scioscia said, but should be available if needed.
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.