Make it Kendrys Morales
On further review, make it Kendrys Morales.
Known as Kendry Morales since signing with the Angels as a Cuban exile in 2004, Morales has let it be known that his given name is actually Kendrys. That is how it appears in the Angels’ press guide, and that’s what he prefers to be called.
His full name is Kendrys Morales Rodriguez.
Morales, fifth in the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player balloting, is rebounding from surgery on his lower left leg and hopes to be ready by Opening Day on March 31 in Kansas City. He has been hitting regularly and taking fielding practice but has not yet run full speed.
He fractured the leg on May 29 leaping on home plate after a game-winning grand slam against the Mariners at Angel Stadium. – Lyle Spencer
Matsui gets a look in left
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers, the Angels’ Hideki Matsui gets his first start in the outfield today since June 15, 2008 when he plays left and bats fourth.
Hindered by knee problems, Matsui did not play at all in the outfield for the Yankees last season, limiting him to designated-hitter duties only. He took full advantage of his three DH appearances in the World Series to claim the Series MVP award for his bashing of the Phillies for the Bronx Bombers.
“He could play in Fenway Park or anywhere,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked why he chose to play Matsui in the outfield in an unfamiliar park. “He needs to get his prep steps, how he feels during games and – even more important – the next day.
“If you’re going to play a full game, you’re talking about 150 prep steps if the pitchers throw 150 pitches. Not that he’s going to play a full game – I imagine it’ll be somewhere around four innings.”
Matsui has been making gradual progress in outfield drills, strengthening his knees while reacquainting himself with the terrain.
“There’s a team element in defense that needs to get pushed forward,” Scioscia said, alluding to the coordination Matsui and center fielder Torii Hunter need to develop. “With Matsui, it’s understanding range with Torii, where he needs to go. It’ll just take a little time for Hideki to get their range down.”
Signed to a one-year, $6 million free agent deal, Matsui expressed a desire to be given a chance to return to the outfield at least on a part-time basis.
The Angels’ plan is to give him a few starts in left a week, if possible, to provide DH opportunities for the other outfielders: Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, along with Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli on occasion.
After missing a week and a half with a strain in his right elbow, shortstop Erick Aybar returned to the lineup on Monday against the Dodgers, leading off.
Scioscia said he did not play Brandon Wood on Sunday against the Mariners at home because he wanted his third baseman to sharpen his coordination with Aybar in a camp game.
“Left side defense is as important as anything you’re going to do,” Scioscia said. “The third baseman has to cover the hole. With Wood and Aybar, we worked on it yesterday. We also had Morales and [Howard] Kendrick on the right side stay back one day to work on it.”
This is the closest Scioscia has come to having his projected lineup together. Jeff Mathis was a last-minute insertion as DH when the Dodgers – using a split squad with a second game against the Brewers — notified the Angels they were freeing up the DH role.
With Matsui in left and Mathis occupying the DH spot, Juan Rivera was the only name missing from the lineup that is expected to be on the field when the Angels open the season on April 5 at home against Minnesota.
Freeing up the DH allowed Scioscia to switch back to Joe Saunders as his starter after deciding he’d go with Matt Palmer under National League rules.
Following Aybar in the lineup are right fielder Abreu, center fielder Hunter, Matsui, Morales, Kendrick, Napoli at catcher, Wood and Mathis.
They’ll be facing right-hander Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pickup bidding to nail down the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is pitching in Phoenix against the Brewers. – Lyle Spencer
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.
Adios, Figgy; hola, Woody
Before moving on to the Winter Meetings and long days filled with hot air inside the Indiana Convention Center, I’d like to offer a few words with respect to Chone Figgins, who is about to enrich the Seattle Mariners in so many ways.
First and foremost, I’ll miss our daily conversations about the game, especially in a historical context. Chone wanted to hear everything I had to offer about players from earlier eras, such as the acrobatic idol of his youth, Ozzie Smith. As someone who loves an attentive audience, I was always deeply appreciative of Figgins’ company.
Figgins is baseball’s version of a gym rat. Nobody works harder at improving himself. I actually would get on him now and then for pushing himself too hard, for taking too much batting practice. He’d grin and say, “That’s who I am. I love this.”
He keeps finding new ways to get better, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to add subtle new elements to his brilliant game. Watching Figgy and Ichiro together should be a real treat for those who love the inner game. Mariners fans should be pumped; there will not be a more exciting tandem in the game.
Figgins never can absorb enough information about the game. When he’s not working on improving himself, he’s watching the MLB Network or talking about the game with teammates, friends and family members. His mother knows what she’s talking about, and it shows in the bloodlines. Chone’s brother, Demetrius, has served as a respected scout for the Angels.
When Garret Anderson departed via free agency after the 2008 season on the heels of the departure of the third member of their inner circle, Casey Kotchman, I figured Figgins would be in the dumps. I was surprised to see how upbeat he was from the moment he arrived at camp in Arizona last spring. Before long, he’d developed a bond with Bobby Abreu, and the two clicked as if they’d been teammates for years.
This did nothing to diminish Figgins’ appreciation for Anderson, who’d meant so much to him. Chone still talked about GA all the time. But he didn’t let it cloud his impressions of the man who’d essentially arrived to replace his good buddy. Abreu had a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge, and Figgy soaked it in, raising his on-base percentage from a career .356 to .395 with a career year at 31. Through it all, Figgins praised Abreu for his daily influence.
How good a teammate is Figgins? He’d have agreed without complaint to move to the outfield if he’d been asked to do so to accommodate Brandon Wood at third — even though he’d made himself into a Gold Glove-level third baseman.
Wood — Woody in the clubhouse — now gets his shot, finally, to deliver on all that promise. He’ll tackle the challenge with relish – while remembering Figgins fondly.
“Sure, I want to play every day,” Wood said late in the season. “But look who’s ahead of me – Figgy at third and [Erick] Aybar at short? How can I expect to play ahead of those two guys? They’re great players.”
If the season started tomorrow, I’d expect to see Wood at third, with Maicer Izturis in reserve, backing up at all three positions he plays with the skill and poise of an everyday performer. Izturis can be a free agent after the coming season, and he’ll have the opportunity to go get an everyday job somewhere if he chooses that route. Baseball people know how good he is.
As painful as it is for fans to watch Figgins go, the Angels leave sentiment aside in their judgments. They calculated that they’ll be fine with a new look at third, and there is an undeniable element of excitement for fans in seeing what Wood can do with an everyday job.
He might not erupt as Kendry Morales did in ’09 when he finally got his chance, but Wood is capable of hitting 25-30 homers, driving in 80-100 runs (depending on where he hits in the order) and batting .275. Those who know him best – his Minor League teammates — fully expect him to flourish if he’s allowed to relax and unleash all that natural talent.
Like Anderson, Wood, I think, has been misinterpreted by some people as too cool, owing to his relaxed, easy manner. Believe me, having spent hours with the guy, I can assure you Wood burns to be successful, just as Garret has throughout his career. Hey, people used to think Henry Aaron was a cruiser, because of his laid-back style. He turned out all right.
Ichiro: completely unique
Ichiro is as hip, stylish and in step with the times as any player in Major League Baseball, even if he doesn’t express it in fluent English.
Before the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium last season, Ichiro willingly gave me a brief taste of hip-hop. I’m no music critic – although I did once review a Bruce Springsteen concert for the late, lamented Los Angeles Herald Examiner — but it sounded dead on to me.
“Ichiro is as cool as it gets, man,” Reds manager Dusty Baker had told me. “He’ll bust out some Snoop on you.”
The Mariners’ superstar, alone at his locker in the ancient home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, was just starting to feel it before I was ushered away, deprived of more Ichiro unplugged by pre-game time constraints.
Now here he is, on the verge of reaching 200 hits for the ninth consecutive season, meaning every season he’s played in the Major Leagues of this country. We’re fortunate that it could happen here, at Angel Stadium, because this is a performer to savor, one for the ages.
As contemporary as he is on every level, Ichiro, more than any other current player, takes us back to another time, another century.
If you’re younger than dirt and would be curious to know what Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, greats of those early times, played like, Ichiro is your ticket.
He slaps and dashes. He laces line drives everywhere. He runs as if swept by a quiet storm. He makes difficult plays routine and has a cannon for an arm. I’ll never forget the throw he made his rookie year to erase Oakland’s Terrence Long trying to reach third base on a single. I was thinking, that’s Clemente, Roberto Clemente.
Ichiro has pounded out and beat out his singles on wonderful teams (2001) and dismal ones. He has been as consistent as the weather in the Pacific Northwest. You know it’s going to rain base hits when this guy is on the field.
Ichiro is much like Pete Rose in that way, without the fury. Ichiro is a better hitter than Rose was, with all due respect, and much faster. Defensively, it’s no contest. Ichiro is among the best ever; Pete took his talents to physical limits that never constrained Ichiro.
If Pete was Charlie Hustle – and he was – Ichiro is Mr. Cool, in any language.
Seattle likely will finish no better than third in the American League West this season, but it led the division in legends with Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners also own perhaps the game’s most gifted young pitcher in Felix Hernandez, who takes his place right alongside Tim Lincecum.
Griffey has been, in my judgment, the player of his generation. Nobody ever had more fun playing the game than The Kid, and nobody ever was more fun to watch.
Ichiro Suzuki has been simply unique. His value can be measured with statistics that will carry him to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but there’s never been a number that defines style and class packaged in the one dynamic frame.
I’ll settle for No. 51, the one worn by the great Ichiro, a blazing star for several continents and all time.
Kazmir has excelled against AL West
If past performance is a fair gauge, southpaw Scott Kazmir should have no trouble adapting to a steady diet of Major League Baseball, American League West style. He’ll make his Angels debut, if all goes as planned, on Wednesday in Seattle.
The Houston native has flourished against the Angels’ three division rivals. This is an important residual benefit of the deal that brings Kazmir – 25 and signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012 — to Anaheim at the cost of lefty Alex Torres, infielder Matt Sweeney and a player to be named later.
In 28 career starts against the Athletics, Rangers and Mariners, Kazmir is 15-5 with 173 strikeouts against 63 walks in 166 innings pitched.
The two-time All-Star is 7-3 in 13 starts against Oakland with a 3.16 ERA. He’s 5-1 against Texas with a 2.28 ERA in nine outings and 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in six career starts against Seattle.
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in five starts at Safeco Field. He’s 4-2, 2.96 in eight trips to the post at the Oakland Coliseum and 2-1, 2.52 in four starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That makes him 9-4 in 17 outings on foreign AL West soil.
In a season that has brought an uncommon number of struggles within the division, the Angels certainly can use Kazmir’s touch.
If the five-man rotation stays intact for the balance of the season, Kazmir should have seven starts for the Angels. He’s 8-7 with a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts, but his past three have been among his best of the year, with his velocity moving back into more familiar territory after a dip earlier.
Kazmir’s home debut — he lost his only start at Angel Stadium, three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings — figures to be on Sept. 8 against the Mariners. That would be followed by a Sept. 13 home start against the White Sox, a Sept. 18 challenge in Texas, a Sept. 23 home assignment against the Yankees, Sept. 29 at home against the Rangers and, finally, the Athletics in the season finale on Oct. 4 in Oakland.
That, mind you, is just one blogger trying to map it all out, subject to change along the way. But it would make five of his seven projected starts against AL West foes.
A quality athlete who has been timed at 6.7 in the 60, Kazmir was a quarterback at Cypress Falls High School in Houston his freshman and sophomore years before hanging up the pads to focus on his main sport.
Kazmir was taken in the first round, 15th overall, by the Mets in 2002 after being named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
The Mets brought him along carefully for 2 ½ seasons before shipping him to Tampa Bay on July 30, 2004 – beating the non-waiver Trade Deadline – in a four-player swap. Veteran right-hander Victor Zambrano was the object of the Mets’ affections.
Zambrano was 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in 39 games for the Mets across three seasons. Right-hander Bartolome Fortunato, also acquired in the deal by New York, was 2-0 with a 7.06 ERA in 17 appearances for the Mets.
Kazmir, meanwhile, has pitched in two All-Star Games (a scoreless inning each) and five postseason games representing Tampa Bay, where he was 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA in 145 games at the time of the deal.
Here, from the New York end, was a classic deadline quick fix gone awry.
Hunter sits as Scioscia lobbies for Figgins, Aybar
Torii Hunter, gradually regaining strength in the area of his right adductor muscle, was not in the Angels’ lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Indians at Progressive Field, with Gary Matthews Jr. in center field.
Hunter also will take a day off in Toronto, where the Angels engage the Blue Jays in a three-game weekend series on the artificial surface at the Rogers Centre. Look for Hunter to be back in the No. 3 spot in the order in Toronto, between Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
“I’m good,” Hunter said, on his way to take batting practice in the inside cages. “They’re being careful with me, and even though I never want to come out, I understand.”
While the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner rested, manager Mike Scioscia was joining the campaign for Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar, promoting the Gold Glove candidacies of his left-side infielders. Figgins at third and Aybar at shortstop have been brilliant and steady all season.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Scioscia said of Figgins’ worthiness of Gold Glove consideration. “There’s not a third baseman in our league playing at a higher level.”
Asked if the same view applied to Aybar, Scioscia nodded.
“Erick makes very tough plays look manageable, routine, with his arm strength,” Scioscia said. “There’s no shortstop who makes the 4-6 double play turn better than Erick, nobody.”
Scioscia had to reach deep in his memory bank to find names when he was asked if anybody else could have made the play Aybar delivered in Baltimore, robbing fleet Brian Roberts of a hit from deep in the hole with a leaping bullet to first.
Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston were shortstops of the past who crossed Scioscia’s mind as having the arm strength and athleticism to make a play like that . . . but “nobody” in today’s game.
Figgins, drafted as a shortstop by Colorado, has started at six positions in the Majors, finally settling in at third base in 2007 on a full-time basis.
“It feels good to get some recognition for what I’m doing defensively,” Figgins said. “It took a while before I really thought of myself as a third baseman, but that’s what I am now. I’d be flattered to be considered for that [Gold Glove]. Growing up, my man was Ozzie [Smith], and I’d love to get one.”
The Wizard of Oz won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves for the Cardinals. The two-time reigning Gold Glove third baseman in the American League, Seattle’s Adrian Beltre, has missed 39 games this season.
Aybar’s model at shortstop as a kid was the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal, the player he most resembles. Michael Young, last year’s Gold Glove shortstop in the AL, was moved to third base this year by Texas to accommodate the arrival of Elvis Andrus.
Young succeeded Orlando Cabrera, who claimed the 2007 Gold Glove in an Angels uniform, with Aybar as his understudy.
If the Angels and Mariners are getting a little tired of seeing each other, you can’t really blame them. When they’re done this weekend, they will have faced off 13 times — more than 25 percent of each other’s schedule.
This is a trifle strange, given that the Angels haven’t even seen two American League teams — the Rays and Indians — and have encountered AL West leader Texas for only three games, while playing AL East power Boston six games, all in Anaheim.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been pleading for a more balanced schedule for a long time. All he can do is shake his head and, as he put it, “play the team they put in front of us.”
The Angels and Mariners have split their 10 games. After dominating the division last season, the reigning champions are 8-10 within the AL West.
“I think we’re beating a dead horse,” Scioscia said when the subject came up on Friday night. “But trying to get a little balance to the schedule and keeping Interleague Play is a daunting task.
“You should definitely see your division [rivals] early, middle and late. It doesn’t seem to work that way. When you’re playing your division in April, the middle of the season and at the end, no team can get too far ahead. You’ve got to earn it.”
The Angels will face reinging AL champion Tampa Bay on the upcoming road trip, the final leg of a nine-game journey that starts in Toronto and moves on to Detroit, where Kelvim Escobar figures to make his long-awaited comeback start next weekend.
Potentially, if all five remain sound, the Angels could have the deepest rotation in the game. John Lackey, Escobar, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver would be hard to match.
Escobar means more to this team beyond what he provides every fifth day. He’s a clubhouse force with his engaging personality and mental toughness. Santana, in particular, has benefited immensely from lockering next to the man from Venezuela.
Lackey could bounce back soon
There will be no immediate relief for Angels ace John Lackey after his two-pitch nightmare on Saturday. The only thing manager Mike Scioscia was sure about on Sunday was his big ace wouldn’t be in the bullpen before he makes his next start.
When that start will be is the question Scioscia refrained from answering, mainly because he doesn’t know yet how quickly and how well Lackey’s arm will respond.
“We’ll probably fold him in earlier [than scheduled on Thursday in Seattle],” Scioscia said “It could tomorrow, the next day. We’ll see how he feels.”
Matt Palmer is scheduled to start the first of four games against the Mariners on Monday night. If Lackey gets the call, Palmer, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders each would be pushed back a day.
Lackey on Saturday said he’d volunteer to go to the bullpen if asked, but Scioscia doesn’t feel his relief staff is taxed to that point. Lackey has made one relief appearance in his career, in 2004.
Lackey said he was “shocked” when he got ejected after two pitches to Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler, the first behind his back, the second in his left side. Lackey said he was having trouble getting his two-seam fastball to reach the inside part of home plate after missing six weeks with his right forearm strain.