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.
Justin Speier, the Angels’ veteran right-handed reliever, has been handed his unconditional release to make room on the 25-man roster for Trevor Bell, the 22-year-old right-hander who makes his Major League debut on Wednesday against the Rays.
Speier, signed to a free agent contract with the Angels after the 2006 season, was 4-2 with a 5.18 ERA this season in 41 appearances. He pitched 40 innings, yielding 44 hits and 15 walks while striking out 39 batters. Opponents had a .277 batting average against him.
“It probably caught him off guard,” Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. “It’s emotional. There was nothing but professionalism in the way he took it on short notice. He has sincere passion for this organization, and the feelings are mutual.
“You always hope a player continues his career and gets an opportunity. We know he wants to continue to pitch. He’s going to take a breather.”
Speier, 35, is the son of long-time Major League shortstop Chris Speier, now a coach on manager Dusty Baker’s staff in Cincinnati.
Speier began his Major League career in 1998 after he was taken in the 55th round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs. He pitched for the Marlins, Braves, Indians, Rockies and Blue Jays before joining the Angels.
He’s 35-33 in his career in 613 Major League appearances.
“We felt from a baseball standpoint this decision at this time was the right decision to make,” Reagins said. “It’s something we’ve talked about for several days. It’s always a difficult decision when you have to go this route.
“From a baseball standpoint, it was something we felt that had to be done to allow us to do some other things.”
Bell gives the Angels two rookie starting pitchers, joining Sean O’Sullivan, with Joe Saunders on the disabled list. Middle relievers Matt Palmer and Shane Loux also are candidates to join the rotation, having had some success in that role.
The Angels never rush into decisions, or announcing them, but it appears that right-hander Trevor Bell is the choice to fill Joe Saunders’ hole in the rotation first time around on Wednesday against the Rays at Angel Stadium.
It would be Bell’s Major League debut. He was lifted after two innings in his start on Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake against Memphis, having allowed two hits but no runs. He’s 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 starts after going 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA to start the season at Double-A Arkansas.
“We shortened him yesterday in his start just to make him a candidate,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll see how he’s doing in the next couple of days, but he’s certainly a guy we’re looking at. He threw two innings yesterday. We’ll see where we are.”
Matt Palmer and Shane Loux are in-house candidates to take the start. Both right-handers have been pitching in middle relief.
Palmer is 9-1 with a 4.52 ERA and has made 12 starts in 25 appearances. Loux is 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA, with six starts and 15 appearances.
Bell, 22, was a 2005 first-round compensation pick in the First-Year Player Draft, No. 37 overall, out of Crescenta Valley High School in Southern California. He had not pitched above Class A until this season.
“I think he has jumped on our depth chart from where he was a couple of years ago, where he was searching to find where his best stuff was,” Scioscia said. “Not unlike a lot of young pitchers in pro ball.
“Experience will teach you what works and what doesn’t work and what you need to do. He’s starting to figure it out. We feel he has the makeup to come up here and compete right now.
That’s why he’s a candidate and he’s on our depth chart. He’s shown terrific fastball command with good life and he really spins the ball well. We’ll see how it moves forward.”
OAKLAND — Angels manager Mike Scioscia hasn’t committed to a starter for Monday night’s series opener in Kansas City, identifying as candidates Matt Palmer, Sean O’Sullivan and Shane Loux.
Loux, having rejoined the pitching staff after recovering from a bout with shoulder inflammation, is just happy to be back in the conversation, a viable option again.
“I feel good, ready to do whatever comes my way,” Loux said. “I will gladly take any assignment.”
Loux gave the Angels some solid work as a starter to open the season, going 2-2 with a 4.64 ERA in six starts before getting moved to the bullpen. That was where he created stress in the shoulder in outings on successive days in Texas in mid-May, going to the DL retroactive to May 17.
Loux put together a pair of excellent starts in Baltimore and Oakland, yielding just two earned runs in a total of 13 innings, before giving up three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings at home against the Royals in his final start on May 10.
Eight days ago, pitching at home for Triple-A Salt Lake, Loux showed he had his stamina back with 87 pitches in seven innings against Colorado Springs.
“I got 15 groundouts,” Loux said. “I was making good pitches, down in the zone, and throwing my breaking ball for strikes. I thought it was a good sign that my last pitch was the same speed as my second pitch. That’s what we were worried about. I’m fully stretched out and ready for whatever I need to do.”
Palmer is 7-1 with a 4.80 ERA, with 11 starts in 17 appearances. O’Sullivan, now back at Salt Lake, is 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts for the Angels.
It has been obscured lately by the impending returns of John Lackey and Ervin Santana — both could be back in the rotation late next week — but Kelvim Escobar also is making strides in that direction.
Escobar was feeling good on Saturday after enduring a long bullpen session on Friday without a recurrence of the shoulder pain that surfaced after he got a little carried away with his mid-90s heat on April 3 in San Diego.
“I threw 30 pitches, sat down, threw 15 more, sat down, 15 more, sat down, 15 more,” Escobar said, describing his session on Friday at Angel Stadium. “That’s 75. I threw everything and felt good.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher said Escobar looked comfortable and threw well, adding that when you add the eight warmup pitches before each of his 15-pitch simulated innings, Escobar threw a total of 99 pitches.
“I’m going to Arizona on Tuesday,” Escobar said. “I’ll be pitching in a camp game. I’m coming along. I’m not pushing it too hard this time.”
That camp game will be in extended Spring Training, where pitchers can perform under controlled conditions. The Angels are being careful with Escobar. Knowing he can’t come off the 60-day disabled list until June 4, there’s no reason to rush him — especially after he tried to do too much too soon that night at PETCO Park when he thought he was close to ready to get back in the Angels’ rotation.
It’s still a little ways off, but the Angels will have some tough calls to make when Lackey and Santana return to the rotation, to say nothing of Escobar.
Also in the mix is Dustin Moseley, who is a bullpen and a Minor League rehab outing or two away from rejoining the staff. Moseley is 1-0 with a 4.30 ERA in three starts.
Shane Loux and Matt Palmer have delivered handsomely. Loux going 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, Palmer 3-0 with a 3.06 ERA in his three outings.
Like Moseley, Loux and Palmer could go to the bullpen. Loux is out of options, and the Angels would lose him if they removed him from the 25-man roster. Palmer has options left and could be sent to Salt Lake to stay stretched out as a starter.
Anthony Ortega, who is 0-2 with a 9.24 ERA in three starts, figures to be back in Salt Lake soon getting the experience he needs. The club is high on the 23-year-old Venezuelan’s future as a starter.
Another name to keep in mind is lefty Trevor Reckling, who turns 20 in 13 days. The Livingston, N.J., native, an eight-round Draft pick in 2007 out of high school in Newark, Reckling has been sensational this season after opening eyes in Spring Training with his high-octane stuff and poise.
Reckling is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Double-A Arkansas after going 1-2 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Combined, he has 33 strikeouts against 12 walks in 38 innings.
In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.
It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.
This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.
Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.
The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.
Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?
My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.
When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.
I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.
Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.
I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.
Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.
He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.
So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.
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?