Results tagged ‘ Torii Hunter ’

Baker defends Hunter

Reds manager Dusty Baker was a member of the panel that recently discussed the status of African American players in baseball, and he was taken aback by quotes attributed to Angels center fielder Torii Hunter in a national publication.

“I must have left before any of that,” Baker said. “I didn’t hear it at all. I know Torii was probably trying to make light of the situation – and that’s not Torii Hunter, how it came out in print.

“He’s one of the most respected players around the game by everyone in the game. All I know is that whatever way it came out, I refuse to believe Torii believes that. He’s a unifier. He’s always treated everybody the same, with respect. That’s one of the reasons why he has such a great reputation in the game, along with the way he competes.”

Hunter was stunned and hurt by how the story portrayed his perception of the racial balance in the game. He said he was merely trying to point out that “black kids from America are different from kids growing up in Latin America, with different cultures, but we all share a love of the game.

“I’ve spent my whole career trying to get young kids involved in this great game,” Hunter said, “and that’s not going to change. It’s hurtful when something like this causes perceptions that are not accurate.”

>>>>>>Kazmir ready to go

Snuffed by the Reds, 6-0, on three hits on Wednesday, the Angels got some good news on the pitching front. Southpaw Scott Kazmir, whose spring started slowly with residual pain from a right hamstring strain, made it through 31 pitches in a camp game and is set to go in the rotation. His turn comes up on Monday when the Dodgers visit Tempe Diablo Stadium.

“He looked great,” Scioscia said. “It was a really good workout for him.”

 

 

 

 

 

Morales delivers in debut

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

 

Rodney ready; Globetrotters surprise guests

The news of the day involved Fernando Rodney, the hard-throwing right-hander signed to a two-year, $11 million free-agent deal over the winter. Rodney, experiencing soreness in his shins, has been cleared to start throwing off the mound.

“Really good news,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

That means all the club’s pitchers are now able to get their work in as Scioscia begins to formulate plans for a variety of power arms aligned in the bullpen.

The entertainment news came in the form of the Harlem Globetrotters, who put on an exhibition of sorts for Angels players behind closed doors in their daily morning meeting.

The Trotters accepted an invitation by Torii Hunter, who plans to don a uniform when the world-famous outfit performs in the area on Friday night.

“Bobby Abreu is involved in the ownership of a Venezuean basketball team,” Scioscia said. “We said we’ve got some guys who want to try out for his team.”

And here came six Globetrotters to do their matchless magic act on the floor of the clubhouse, to the delight of 60 players, a group of coaches and executives and one beaming manager.

“It was great,” Scioscia said.

Still waiting on Morales

The Kendry Morales watch continued on Monday as the Angels went through a workout under sunny skies following a dark, drizzly Sunday.

“Kendry was expected over the weekend,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “We expect him any hour, any day. Hopefully, we’re going to see  him in camp in the next couple days.”

Morales is awaiting the stamp of approval from U.S. lmmigration on his green card, Scioscia has been told. In the meantime, the first baseman is said to be working out in Arizona.

Otherwise, things seem to be going swimmingly for the three-time reigning AL West champs. Hideki Matsui has fit in seamlessly, seated right next to lightning-rod Torii Hunter in the clubhouse, and Scioscia likes what he’s seen from his pitchers in bullpen sessions and batting-practice efforts.

“Our arms look good,” he said.

The Angels will have a 5 1/2-inning intrasquad game on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium to tune up for their Cactus League debut on Thursday at home against the White Sox at 3:05 p.m. MT. (2:05 p.m.). All other home games will be held at 1:05 p.m. MT, 12:05 p.m. PT.

Scioscia hasn’t decided on a starting pitcher for the spring opener. 

Abreu, Morales miss opening workout

Absent with club approval for the first full-squad workout on Tuesday were Angels first baseman Kendry Morales and right fielder Bobby Abreu.

Morales, according to manager Mike Scioscia, is clearing up some paperwork and “should be here any day.” The Cuba-born slugger now calls the Dominican Republic home in the offseason.

Abreu, who spends his winters in his Venezuela homeland, was due to arrive sometime Tuesday. Abreu signed a two-year contract extension with an option for 2012 after a superb debut season with the Angels in 2009.

Torii Hunter, in his first workout following winter surgery to repair a sports hernia, took his cuts in batting practice and showed no ill effects of the procedure.

In his early-day session with the media, Scioscia again identified Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis as his leadoff men and said he was anticipating having Hideki Matsui in the fourth or fifth spots in the order, with Abreu batting second most of the time.

Asked how capable he expects Brandon Wood to be with the glove at third base, Scioscia referred to his shortstop’s range and strong, accurate arm and said, “He’s a Gold Glove caliber guy. He’s a guy that can play shortstop, and when you move him to third base, there’s a difference. He has terrific reactions, no problem going to the shorter side. He’s got the makings of a terrific defender.”

 

 

Matsui makes a nice first impression

Hideki Matsui arrived in camp on Friday, settling in with his new surroundings and Angels teammates while greeting familiar faces from the Japanese media. He’s a major figure in his homeland, owing to his time as a slugger with the Yomiuri Giants and a colorful nickname — Godzilla — that he wears well, with grace.

Matsui met the English-speaking media and answered everything we threw his way, patiently and calmly, showing why he is so highly regarded for his professionalism and character on two continents and in two cultures.

When I asked him about the origin of the nickname and how he feels about it, he traced it to his high school days when he homered in a tournament. If he had any questions about it initially, he came to like being known as “Godzilla” when he realized it made a connection with American fans.

Matsui demonstrated his sense of humor on several occasions, notably when he described taking a home run away from Torii Hunter in an all-star series played between American and Japanese stars in 2002.

“We spent some time then getting to know each other,” Matsui said through Roger Kahlon’s translation.

Asked, jokingly, if he found Hunter to be a “jerk,” Matsui smiled.

“He might think I’m the jerk,” he replied. “I caught his home run once.”

There was another occasion when Hunter, known as “Spiderman” for the way he climbs walls to snatch doubles, triples and homers, gave one back to Matsui.

“During the playoffs when he was with the Twins,” Matsui said, “I hit one off his glove and it became a homer.”

Matsui’s locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium is right next to Hunter’s. Two down to the right is the locker Bobby Abreu, Matsui’s old friend from New York, will occupy.

Godzilla should fit right in and feel at home very quickly in that company.

  

Abreu: three more years likely

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.
 

Matthews seeking new home

As he was packing his bag at Yankee Stadium late Sunday night, a long season over, Gary Matthews Jr. looked up and said, “It’s time.”

It was not the first time he’d said this, and his meaning was clear. It’s time, in Matthews’ mind, to move on. Time to find a place where he can play center field every day and take full advantage of his multiple skills at age 35.

Tired of being a fifth wheel in the Angels’ outfield, Matthews desperately wants to wear a new uniform with two years remaining on a five-year deal that brought him $50 million after his 2006 All-Star season in Texas.

He thinks there are teams that can see what he has to offer, and he hopes something can be done to make it happen. The $23 million owed him complicates the situation, but there are possible fits with clubs that have high-priced contracts they could move in exchange for a versatile switch-hitter who can play high-caliber center field.

Matthews had one superb half in ’07, leading off and batting cleanup and making all the plays in center, before a knee injury set him back and forced him to end his season in civvies while the Angels were getting swept by Boston in the ALDS.

They went out and acquired Torii Hunter that winter, a move not even Matthews could criticize. A smart baseball guy, having grown up in the game with a slugging father, Gary Sr., he understands Hunter’s tremendous value on and off the field. It just happened that Torii is one of the elite players in the game at Matthews’ natural position.

Life as a backup role player has been unfulfilling for the son of Sarge.

Matthews had a nice little run this season when Hunter was sidelined for a month with a groin injury sustained banging into outfield walls. During that time, Matthews was renewed, emotionally and physically, and it showed in his performance.

Carrying the momentum of a strong June finish, the Angels were 17-9 in July with Hunter missing all but seven games. During one memorable stretch with Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero both sidelined, the Angels were 17-3.

The Angels were 32-13 with Matthews starting in center field, and he batted a robust .358 with runners in scoring position, when his competitive juices were flowing.

Those numbers might be a more accurate reflection of what he can do than his pedestrian .250 batting average, .361 slugging and .336 on-base numbers for the full season, with an irregular work load.

It took him a while to find his stroke after Hunter went on the shelf, but once he did, Matthews carried it to the finish with strong performances in August (.290 average, .452 slugging, .389 on-base percentage) and September/October (.286/.457/.444, respectively).

His play in center field is far superior to what he does in left and right, where he struggles at times with the hooks, slices and angles. In center, Matthews ranks among the top third in the game in the studied view of Hunter, the master.

Teams with needs in center should seriously explore taking on a player who has plenty of game left and a hunger to show what he can do.

This certainly isn’t anywhere near the top of the Angels’ winter agenda, with seven free agent cases to weigh along with eight arbitration-eligible players to satisfy. But at some point, dealing with Matthews – and dealing him in a mutually satisfying manner – would seem to be the right thing to do.

A pause for praise

 

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.

Guerrero stays in No. 4 spot

After a robust August, hitting .337 with a .625 slugging percentage, Vladimir Guerrero needed a big September kick to prolong one of the game’s most remarkable streaks.

Batting a quiet .262 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 28 games, Guerrero fell short of .300 for the first time in his career, ending a stretch of 12 consecutive seasons at .300 or higher with a .295 average. It was also the first time since his rookie year in 1997, when he played 90 games, that Guerrero didn’t hit at least 25 homers, finishing with 15.

He’s a .321 career hitter with a .568 slugging percentage, having launched 407 home runs and produced 1,318 runs batted in. That counts for something in the mind of his manager, Mike Scioscia. But, fans being fanatics, it’s not enough to stop malcontents from calling for a new lineup spot for the cleanup man.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston on Thursday night, Guerrero singled and scored a run in four at-bats. He also had a hit taken away in his first at-bat on a fine play by third baseman Mike Lowell.

But in a big spot early in the game, bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, lefty Jon Lester made Guerrero look bad, striking him out on an elevated fastball at his shoulders.

One of the great bad-ball hitters in the game’s history, Guerrero looked bad in that at-bat. But not bad enough for Scioscia to drop him in the order and elevate, say, Kendry Morales, who was in the No. 5 slot in Game 2 against Josh Beckett.

“Veteran’s pride is a non-issue,” Scioscia said, denying the widely held notion that Scioscia doesn’t want to hurt his slugger’s feelings. “In that one at-bat, he expanded his zone. One at-bat, he fouled a ball straight back that would have ended up in the rocks [beyond center field]. He hit a sharp ground ball in the hole that Lowell dove for. He had some good swings. In one at-bat, he got a little out of his element.”

Scioscia said he likes the “presence” Guerrero brings to the lineup hitting behind Torii Hunter, whose three-run homer was the big blow in Game 1.

“With Vlad, it takes one good swing, and he gets back where he needs to be,” Scioscia said. “In the middle of the lineup, we need a consistent presence, and we feel it’s going to be Vlad. He hasn’t hit the ball that poorly. In the Texas [AL West] clinching game, he hit four bullets all over the field. That was a week ago.”

Scioscia said that if Guerrero’s struggles warrant a move down in the order, he’d do it.

“If a player’s not getting it done at a level you would need, you would understand a change has to be made,” Scioscia said. “For our lineup to go, we’re definitely going to need Vlad going. We’re a better lineup if he’s swinging the way he can.”

 

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