Results tagged ‘ Torii Hunter ’

Setting table for Abreu

With their leading hitter, Erick Aybar, batting in the No. 9 slot for Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Angels either have an incredibly deep lineup or manager Mike Scioscia has something up his proverbial sleeves.

In this case, it’s probably both.

With Bobby Abreu batting second, between Chone Figgins and Torii Hunter, Scioscia likes to have a pair of table-setters in front of the versatile Abreu – a classic “swing man” in the manager’s mind, meaning he can set or clear the table.

Figgins and Aybar are the club’s fastest two players, and when they get moving, they’re a sight to behold. Abreu has the ability to do a lot of things behind, in effect, a pair of swift leadoff men.

Abreu drove in 103 runs and scored 96 this season, batting third 95 times and second 50 times. The Angels had a better record (60-35) with Abreu batting third than second (26-24), but Scioscia likes the way this lineup sets up.

Aybar, who made tremendous strides offensively in his selectivity in large part because of Abreu’s influence, excelled in the No. 2 spot. The Angels were 26-9 when the shortstop batted second, compared to a pedestrian 28-29 when Aybar batted ninth.

With Maicer Izturis batting second, the Angels were 34-21. Izturis is expected back at second base in Game 2 against Josh Beckett after Howard Kendrick – a .358 hitter in the second half – got the start at second against lefty Jon Lester.
 
Scioscia studies numbers to a degree, but he’s also an intuitive manager who relies on feel. He’d say the Abreu and Abyar lineup numbers are skewed by the times of the season when Abreu batted third vs. second and when Aybar hit ninth vs. second.

And when you’ve won six division titles in your first 10 seasons – something no manger has done before you – you certainly deserve a lot of benefit of any doubt

With Jeff Mathis catching John Lackey, the Angels had a .211 hitter batting eighth, right in front of Aybar and his .312 average. But Mathis made much better contact late in the season and hit .234 in the second half, compared to .192 before the All-Star break.

   

 

Scioscia tries something different

As promised, Angels manager Mike Scioscia shuffled his lineup for Saturday night’s game, trying to find some missing chemistry – and runs – after going 0-for-19 the previous two games with runners in scoring position and striking out a total of 28 times.

Bobby Abreu was bumped up to No. 2 from No. 3, with Torii Hunter assuming the spot between Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero. Giving Erick Aybar a day off and taking over at shortstop, Maicer Izturis was placed in the No. 9 spot, giving the Angels a pair of table-setters in front of Abreu.

Two RBIs shy of 100 for the seventh straight year, Abreu has not been himself lately. He is in a 2-for-27 slide with 14 strikeouts, an uncommonly high number for a guy known not only for his ability to work counts but to put the bat on the ball and move it around the field.

By hitting Abreu second, Scioscia might free him up from thinking about driving in runs in favor of putting the ball in play behind leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins.

Abreu, 35, has 640 plate appearances in 145 games, trailing only Figgins among teammates. It could be a case of mental fatigue setting in for Abreu, who has made 119 starts in right field, 10 in left and 12 as a DH.

“I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue,” Scioscia said. “We talk to him every day to make sure he’s moving in the right direction. He feels fine physically. Mentally, he’s as strong as anybody I’ve been around.

“I don’t think that’s an issue. He’s been through pennant races. For a while he started squaring it up, but lately, obviously, he’s trying to find some things.”

Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis have been spending most of the time in the No. 9 spot with Abreu batting third. The start in that spot is the fourth for Izturis, and the Angels are unbeaten with him in the No. 9 hole.

“In theory, there are more options [with Izturis in front of Figgins],” Scioscia said. “We’re going to try to connect our hitters with this lineup, and the situational look is going to have to come from the bottom.”

Despite their recent struggles, eight of the nine hitters in the lineup were at .288 (Juan Rivera) or higher, but only three – Figgins and Kendry Morales (both at .301) and Hunter (.300) — were at .300 or better. Mathis is batting .209.

Guerrero, in quest of a 13th consecutive season batting at least .300, comes in at .296.

Even with their 0-for-19 the past two games, the Angels still lead the Majors in hitting with runners in scoring position at .295 and lead in overall batting average as well at .284.

 

 

Schedule no ally of Angels — or Yanks

If you want to get Mike Scioscia’s undivided attention, ask him what he thinks of the schedule. The Angels’ manager goes straight to the point without a hint of slowing down to find the right politically correct words.

“The schedule’s a joke,” Scioscia said before Tuesday night’s showdown with the Bronx Bombers at Angel Stadium. “You should be [playing] in your own division early in the season, the middle of the season and in September.

“For the sake of division rivalry, that should be the way it goes. The fact we’re swinging back East [for four games in New York and Boston [Sept. 14-17] and [the Yankees] are coming out West [for six games against the Mariners and Angels, Sept. 18-23] makes no sense.”

The Angels had a 10-day, 10-game trip through Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto from Aug. 14-23.

Sept. 14 was an off-day on the schedule, but a rainout in New York in early May forced a postponement to that date. After a night game at Yankee Stadium, the troupe flew to Boston for three night games, with a game waiting in Texas on Friday.

Their day off on Thursday will the Angels’ second free day since Aug. 13 when they embarked on that East Coast junket.

Scioscia is careful not to give his players any openings to make excuses for unfocused performances. But he played the game long enough to know how draining 49 games in 51 days can be, which is why he is careful to give regulars occasional days “off their feet,” as he puts it.

Since Aug. 3, the Angels have had two days off: Aug. 13, when they traveled to Baltimore, and Sept. 3, when they traveled from Seattle to Kansas City.
 
There are members of the Yankees traveling party who would nod heartily in agreement with Scioscia’s assessment of the schedule.

The Bombers have made two trips to the West Coast since the All-Star break, starting with a seven-game journey through Seattle and Oakland Aug. 13-19.

The New York continent couldn’t help noticing that their big rivals, the Red Sox, were done with the Pacific Time Zone on May 17 when they wrapped up a three-game series in Seattle following three games in Anaheim against the Angels.

The Red Sox journeyed to Oakland and Anaheim April 10-15.

Boston traveled to Texas in July and August, one time zone away. The Sox have a three-game set in Kansas City, again one time zone away.

This might seem like a relatively minor issue, but anybody who has made the change from playing for an East Coast or Midwest team to a West Coast outfit can detail how draining coast-to-coast travel can be over the long course of a season.

“I had no idea how rough travel was out here,” Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. “In Minnesota, everything was two, three hours away. With this team, we’re flying six hours to the East Coast and always trying to adjust to time changes. It’s a big adjustment, believe me. Travel out here is much more difficult.”

Yankees diehards might be excused for arguing that Boston, staying in the East and Central time zones throughout the second half, was handed a scheduling advantage. They might use it to explain why the Sox appear fresh and are finishing strong – eight wins in the past 10 games – while the Yankees have endured a sluggish period, winning four of the past 10 since Sept. 11.

The Yankees have a day off on Thursday to get rested and revved for three big weekend games at home against the Red Sox.

As for the Angels, they finish with 10 games inside the division – including six, three home and three away, against an Oakland team that is loose and playing well, with wins in eight of the past 10.

At least, Scioscia would concede, the schedule-makers got that right.

 
 

 

Roenicke defends Rivera’s defense

The insiders and media sharks were swirling around Angels left fielder Juan Rivera on Thursday, taking him to task for not diving full-tilt for the pop fly by Alex Gonzalez that dropped in fair territory in shallow left field on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

Gonzalez’s bases-loaded single gave the Red Sox a controversy-riddled 9-8 win, coming after Nick Green had walked on a full-count, forcing home the tying run, after the Angels felt Brian Fuentes had him struck out twice, on a checked swing and again on a 3-2 fastball at the knees and over the middle of the plate.

Rivera didn’t have much to say about it, other than, “I didn’t think I could catch it.” He went to a few teammates to see what they thought and found support.

Emphatic, unyielding affirmation came from outfield coach Ron Roenicke, manager Mike Scioscia’s bench coach.

“I saw the replay,” said Roenicke, a former Major League outfielder known for his defensive skills. “He’s not going to catch that ball. So he pulled up.

“When you go for a ball and know you can’t catch it in your mind, you pull up. I don’t want them to dive for a ball if they know they can’t get it and get hurt. From what I saw, he wasn’t going to catch it.”

Rivera didn’t appear to be playing as shallow as center fielder Torii Hunter or right fielder Bobby Abreu, but the Green Monster can distort perspectives.

“We’re playing shallow,” Roenicke said. “We were in a little bit.”

Scioscia was asked if he considered removing Rivera – who’d gone 3-for-5 with a two-run double putting the Angels in front in the seventh — for defensive purposes with the Angels leading by a run going into the bottom of the ninth. Reggie Willits and Gary Matthews Jr. would have been options.

“Vlad [Guerrero] was already out of the game [with a bruised rib cage after getting hit by a pitch], and Juan’s swinging the bat well,” Scioscia said. “Juan is comfortable out there.

“He went after it hard. If he thought he could have dived and caught it, he would. Didn’t think he had a chance.”

Rivera has had a solid season defensively in left, making several game-saving catches and unleashing strong, accurate throws with consistency.

Some outfielders, Roenicke said, are less comfortable diving full-tilt.

“Juan plays hard,” Roenicke said. “If he thought he’d have caught it, he’d have come after it. I’ve never seen him prone dive. I’ve seen him slide into a wall for a catch. Torii will dive forward, but there are not many guys who will dive forward.”

Roenicke said Rivera had not asked him about the play but anticipated that he would – and the coach’s support would be forthcoming.

 

 

Shoeless Torii relieved

Torii Hunter always knows when he’s in Boston’s glorious old ballpark. His left ankle lets him know.

“Every time I come here,” Hunter said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, “my ankle hurts. It remembers this place.”

What his ankle recalls is a terrible accident in the triangle in right center on July 29, 2005. Pursuing a long drive by his former Twins teammate and good buddy David Ortiz, Hunter got his ankle caught in the wall. The ankle was fractured, causing him immense pain and costing him the final two months of the season.

“It was nasty, man, really bad,” Hunter said.

The ugly incident came to his mind on Monday night when the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove center fielder lost his left shoe trying to stab a drive by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira – it’s something about former teammates and friends – at Yankee Stadium.

After the game, Hunter jokingly referred to himself as “Shoeless Torii.” But he understood how fortunate he’d been to shed the cleat on impact.

“It’s a good thing the shoe stuck in the padding and came off,” Hunter said. “If it had stayed on, the way my foot hit the wall . . . I don’t even want to think about what might have happened.”

That painful incident remains clear in his head, but it hasn’t all been bad for Hunter in Beantown. He actually has hit extremely well in Fenway Park: .327 for his career with eight homers in 220 at-bats, .361 last season with three homers in 36 at-bats.

Hunter also delivered handsomely in his biggest at-bat of his first season with the Angels. It was his dramatic two-out, two-run single against Justin Masterson in the eighth inning that brought the Angels even in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero scored on Hunter’s bullet, his third hit in 10 at-bats at Fenway in the series.

The Red Sox rocked the Angels with a run in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 3-2 triumph that arranged an AL Championship Series showdown with the Rays.

The season over, Hunter found no solace in his own performance, batting .389 for the series to lift his career postseason average to .316 (along with a .510 slugging percentage) in 25 playoff games.

“I really thought we were going all the way,” he said that night, despair everywhere in the ancient clubhouse.

With renewed hope in the air, the Angels are back at Fenway. There’s a strong chance they’ll revisit the yard next month, once again as AL West champions facing the Wild Card Sox in Games 3 and 4, if necessary, of the ALDS.

Hunter, who has arrived as a rare six-tool player this season with his immensely popular blog on MLB.com, can’t wait for the big date, if it’s in the stars.

Here’s a guy who can hit for average, for power, run, field, throw – and write.

“Read all about it,” Hunter said, beaming.

 

Scioscia touts Morales as MVP candidate

Kendry Morales, MVP candidate.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out firmly in support of his first baseman in the American League’s Most Valuable Player derby,

“Absolutely no doubt,” Scioscia said when asked about Morales’ candidacy. “Look at his individual stats, what he’s meant to his team. [If you] look at what Kendry has meant to his club opposed to what other players have meant to their club, the only guy [in that category] is Joe Mauer in Minnesota.”

Scioscia alluded to Mark Teixeira, the man Morales has replaced at first base for the Angels, as a strong candidate as well. But Teixeira will likely get stiff competition from venerable Derek Jeter for MVP sentiment (and votes) on the East Coast.

As for Morales, batting .314 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs in his first full season as a regular, the campaign is getting a late start.

“It seems word travels from West to East a little slower in the game of baseball,” Scioscia said. “But I think the world of baseball knows what he’s meant to our club.”

With 274 total bases, Morales has 58 more than the next highest Angels hitter, Juan Rivera. Morales’ .598 slugging percentage trails only Mauer’s .615 in the AL, and the Cuban-born switch-hitter also is second in extra-base hits with 68.

While he’s not yet at Teixeira’s level defensively, Morales has improved by leaps and bounds with the glove, playing with visibly higher confidence as the season progresses.

Morales is coming off the best month of his career, making himself a strong candidate for AL Player of the Month for August. He batted .385, leading the league with his .734 slugging percentage and 33 RBIs while trailing only the Rays’ Tony Pena in homers with 10. Pena had 12.

By now, it would seem, pitchers would have found any serious flaws in Morales’ offensive game.

“It’s one thing figuring out what a hitter’s hole is and matching it with the pitcher’s ability to go out and [exploit] it,” Scioscia said. “Kendry’s at the stage where he’s had enough at-bats [502 plate appearances] that pitchers have an idea of his strengths, the things he can do.

“I don’t think there are a lot of secrets with what pitchers are trying to do with Kendry. Good hitters are going to have holes that are very small.”

Scioscia lifted Morales into the No. 5 hole in the order, dropping Rivera one spot, on Tuesday night against right-hander Doug Fister. This prevents righties from seeing three right-handed bats in succession: Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Rivera.

“Kendry is in a good spot to hit behind Vlad and also to break up some of the righties,” Scioscia said. “We’ll tinker with some things. The way Kendry’s swinging, it’s nice to get him behind Vlad against right-handed pitchers.

“If you take Kendry out of our lineup, I think you’re looking at a different offense,” Scioscia said.
 

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.

Hunter on comeback trail

Rancho Cucamonga’s good fortune is Arkansas’ bad luck.

Fans of the Angels’ high Class A California League team get the treat the next few nights of watching one of baseball’s premier players – Torii Hunter – work out the kinks after a month-long stay on the disabled list with an adductor strain on his right side.

Hunter thought he was ready to go play in his native Arkansas for the Angels’ Double-A affiliate in Little Rock over the weekend, but that fell through when he didn’t pass a strength test administered by the training staff in Chicago.

“That was really disappointing,” Hunter said. “I wanted to play at home. But at least I’m getting close. I’m hoping to be back out there [in center field for the Angels] this weekend in Baltimore. I hate sitting around watching.”

The Angels have held their ground in Hunter’s absence with Gary Matthews Jr. doing a solid job in center field. Matthews got his first day off on Tuesday night, with Reggie Willits in center, since moving in on a regular basis on July 8.

Hunter is batting .305 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs. His slugging (.558) and on-base percentages (.380) would be career highs.

Hunter’s injuries were the result of collisions with the walls at Dodger Stadium on May 23 and at AT&T Park in San Francisco on June 15.

A case can be made that Hunter was the MVP in the American League over the first half of the season, carrying his club offensively while playing the brand of defense that has made him a Rawlings Gold Glover winner eight years running. Angels color commentator and former Major League pitching star Mark Gubicza, one of the brightest talents in his new field, has made that observation.

  

 

 

Matthews feeling validated

The past month has brought validation to Gary Matthews Jr. With Torii Hunter sidelined, Matthews has started every game in center field during a 17-6 stretch by the Angels, contributing offensively and defensively.

“To be able to contribute to a winning team is something every player wants,” Matthews said. “All any player can ask for is the opportunity. When you’re able to go out and perform, help your team win, it feels good.

“It has reiterated the fact I can play every day and be successful. I’ve gotten some really big hits and been a key contributor to the team. It has reiterated what I’ve said and felt all along.”

Coming into Thursday’s series finale against the White Sox in Chicago, Matthews has hit safely in eight of the past nine games, batting .351 during that stretch with six runs scored and six RBIs.

His .247 batting average isn’t impressive, but he has numbers that clearly demonstrate that he has elevated his game in clutch situations. Matthews is batting .295 with runners on base, .344 with runners in scoring position, .455 with two out and runners in scoring position, and .571 with the bases loaded.

“I’ve never been afraid of big situations,” he said.

Matthews has talked with Chone Figgins about sharpening his focus with the bases clear, when his average slips to .206. But Gary also knows he excelled as a leadoff man in Texas in 2006, before signing his five-year free agent deal with the Angels, and that it’s just a matter of getting back to that mindset.

“I don’t check the numbers,” Matthews said, “but as a player, you know what you’re hitting in certain situations. I’ve been really comfortable hitting with runners in scoring position. I don’t know if it’s a matter of better concentration, but I’ve had some success in those situations that I’d like to carry over to all of my at-bats.

“Certainly it brings out your instincts in those big situations, but it’s also the competitor in any player. There’s something about having a runner on second base or third base. You know a pitcher steps it up a level, and as a hitter you have to step it up, too. In talking with Figgy about your approach with no runners on, it could be I’m trying to do too much in those situations.”

As he continues his rehab from an adductor muscle strain in his right side, Hunter knows his job is in good hands.

“For a guy who didn’t play regularly for three months,” Hunter said, “Gary’s playing at a high level. That’s not easy, what he’s done. He’s in the upper class of defensive center fielders, and he’s showing it. And he’s been coming up with big hits.

“It’s good you’ve got somebody like that who could be a starter anywhere else. We’ve got a lot of quality players on this team.”

Sean Rodriguez impresses the boss

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.

 

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