Results tagged ‘ Vladimir Guerrero ’

Vlad, Torii due back in action this week

Vladimir Guerrero “ran great today,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Sunday’s game against the Twins. Torii Hunter, also eager to get off the disabled list and get his Rawlings Gold Glove back in center field, “ran very well,” Scioscia added.

“We’ll wait and see how they come out of it. Vlad’s probably a couple of days ahead of Torii now.”

Guerrero, if all goes well, could be back in the designated hitter role by the time the Angels leave Chicago on Thursday night. Because he won’t be playing in right field for a while, if at all, the big bopper won’t need any Minor League rehab games, Scioscia said.

Hunter, on the other hand, figures to play a few games next weekend with one of the Angels’ Minor League affiliates – perhaps in his native Arkansas with the Double-A Travelers. Triple-A Salt Lake and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga are also possibilities.

“I’m dying to get off the DL,” Hunter said, frustrated by his inability to play this weekend in what would have been his farewell to the Metrodome, where his career started with the Twins.

“In Torii’s case, he’s going to most likely go down and play a few games to work his way out of stiffness connected to playing the outfield again,” Scioscia said. “With Vlad, the earlier he starts seeing Major League pitching, there’s a better chance of being productive early.”

The Angels, in a tribute to their remarkable depth and the tremendous offense generated by the likes of Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order, are 16-3 since their 3-4 hitters went on the DL together on July 10 – Guerrero with a muscle strain behind his left knee, Hunter with an adductor muscle strain on his right side.

Scioscia said Guerrero will be “somewhere in the middle” of the order when he returns but is unsure exactly how he’ll fit him in. There are a variety of lineup options.

So deep are the Angels, Napoli couldn’t find his way into the lineup on Sunday after collecting a total of seven hits in the first two games of the series. Abreu assumed the DH spot with Rivera going to right field.

With 19 hits on Friday night and 18 on Saturday night, scoring 11 runs each time, the Angels accomplished something unprecedented in franchise history, spanning 7,751 games. It’s the first time they’ve ever put together back-to-back games with 18 or more hits.

 

What a season this is becoming

I’m sitting here in the Dodger Stadium pressbox, where I’ve spent hundreds of days and nights, watching Manny Ramirez circle the bases after unloading a first-pitch grand slam — on Manny Bobblehead Night, of all nights.

Mannywood erupts in front of me. He’s second all-time to Lou Gehrig in grand slams with 21, and I doubt the Iron Horse ever made an entrance like the one Manny did when he was summoned by Joe Torre to bat for pitcher Chad Billingsley.

Manny came out to a thunderous roar and swung the lead bat seemingly for five minutes before Reds manager Dusty Baker emerged from the dugout to replace Bronson Arroyo with Nick Masset.

Moments later, Manny was at the plate, swinging a hunk of wood, the crowd going wild. And the ball was sailing into the box seats in the left field corner, Manny circling the bases like the 12-year-old kid he is at moments such as this.

And here I sit thinking that this is shaping up as one of those summers we might not forget in Southern California.

The Angels just roared from behind in Kansas City, behind mighty mites Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis and Reggie Willits, for another exciting victory, and they’re coming home on a roll. They’re doing all this winning without Torii Hunter, their best player, and without Vladimir Guerrero, their most feared hitter, and lately without Juan Rivera, who is having a tremendous season.

Mike Scioscia pushes buttons, athletes run out on the field, and the Angels win games.

I had an email from a reader the other day berating me for calling Figgins an MVP candidate. Why he was so livid about this, I have no idea. He claimed to be an Angels fan and couldn’t believe I would have the audacity to write such a thing. I was actually quoting Scioscia, but that seemed not to matter.

Well, I don’t see why Figgins can’t be an MVP candidate, just as I see no reason why Hunter, in the midst of his best season, also can’t be in the running.

I can’t see why the Angels can’t keep winning, and the Dodgers can’t keep winning, and we can have a magical summer all the way into October.

What would be better than that, an I-5 World Series, if you’re a  baseball fan in Southern California?

Funny, I was just talking about that subject tonight with Dodgers infielder Mark Loretta, who played for the Padres when they were a pretty decent team. As we were talking, Ramirez — out of the lineup after getting drilled in the hand on Tuesday night — walked by,pointed to Loretta and Ausmus, turned his hand inward toward his chest, and said, “Too much money on the bench tonight.”

Not long after that, I was sitting in the visitors’ dugout talking with Eric Davis. He was wearing a Reds uniform and looking good in it, and he was talking about how Manny had “transformed” the Dodgers the day he arrived with his personality.

“He takes everything on, and frees up everybody else to just play,” Davis said. “They watch Manny and realize that he’s just a big kid having a good time. That kind of thing has a big influence on a young team. You can see what it did for the Dodgers. It transformed them.”

Eric, one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, was right. He was up in the pressbox, not far from me, when Mannywood exploded yet again. Davis was hardly surprised.

“He loves the game, everything about being a baseball player,” Davis had said as we sat in the dugout. “He is a joy to be around for teammates. Look at him out there, just a big kid having fun.”

At that moment, playing shortstop during batting practice, Ramirez hurled a baseball into the visitors’ dugout several feet away from Davis and beamed.  

Ah, yes. There’s magic in the air these days and nights. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are wonderful places to spend a summer night. 

Wood gets crack at Pettitte

Brandon Wood was in the Angels’ lineup on Saturday against Andy Pettitte, getting a start at third base with Chone Figgins awarded a day off his busy feet to serve as designated hitter.

Wood welcomes any chance to face anybody, even if it’s one of the game’s premier southpaws. He made one of his two starts for the Angels this season at New York against CC Sabathia, collecting a pair of singles in three at-bats. He went the other way with a single to contribute to a decisive rally against the Yankees’ ace.

The slugging gem of the Angels’ system for four years, Wood also had a single in two at-bats against Pettitte during one of his appearances at home last September when he got his first taste of consistent Major League playing time at shortstop.

“I’ll go check with Torii [Hunter] and some of the guys about how to approach him,” Wood said of Pettitte, who is known to bring his cut fastball in on right-hander’s fists. “Two at-bats help, but Torii has seen him a lot longer than I have.”

Wood, hitting .333 for the Angels with nine at-bats, was batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was recalled on Friday with Hunter (strained adductor muscle) and Vladimir Guerrero (strained muscle behind his left knee) going on the 15-day disabled list.

“Woody can help us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t want him sitting around getting one start every 10 days. There’s a role for him to get at-bats and contribute.”

A natural shortstop coming out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003, Wood has made excellent strides at third base and lately at first in an effort to expand his horizons and make him more attractive to Scioscia.

He has sure hands, an accurate arm and an easy, gliding manner in the field calling to mind a young Cal Ripken Jr.

With a grin, Wood said, “All I can ask for is a chance to play and contribute. It’s exciting every time I get on the field.”
 

Hunter, Guerrero to DL — Wood, Wilson arrive

The Angels will face the Yankees this weekend without the heart of their lineup.

Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the third and fourth hitters in the Angels’ lineup, were placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday. The move will take Hunter, selected for the American League roster in the players’ poll, out of what would have been his third All-Star Game appearance.

Recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to help fill the void were infielder Brandon Wood and catcher Bobby Wilson. Wilson’s presence as a backup to Jeff Mathis will free up Mike Napoli for designated hitter duty.

Guerrero, 34, has a strained muscle behind his left knee and a lower hamstring strain. He landed awkwardly pivoting to make a play in right field against the Rangers on Tuesday night.

Hunter, 33, has an adductor strain in his right side, an area he has been favoring for almost two months. He initially injured his right rib cage banging against the wall at Dodger Stadium making a catch on May 22 and re-injured the area crashing into a wall in San Francisco on June 15.

He missed only one game, after the June 15 mishap, but was forced out of the lineup on Wednesday night when he couldn’t run full tilt the night before against the Rangers.

“I didn’t want to go on the DL – that’s not me – but maybe it’s for the best,” Hunter said. “The way I have it figured, I should be ready to go on July 22. The All-Star break helps, since those days count.”

Guerrero, who had right knee surgery last September, was playing in his second game in right field after tearing a pectoral muscle in an exhibition game on April 2. Serving primarily as a DH, he is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 46 games. Guerrero has missed 38 games this season while on the DL.

Hunter, who already had declined an offer to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby in St. Louis at the All-Star Game, is batting .290 with team highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (65) in 77 games. This is his first trip to the DL with the Angels and his first since 2006.

An eight-time Rawlings Gold Glover, Hunter has been as good as ever defensively while enjoying potentially a career year with the bat.

Wood, 24, is batting .313 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 70 games for Salt Lake, ranking third in the Pacific Coast League with a .592 slugging percentage.

Wood, a natural shortstop who can play third and first base effectively, excelled in two starts – including one big hit against CC Sabathia of the Yankees in a victory at Yankee Stadium – before he was sent to Salt Lake.

Wilson, 26, is batting .261 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 65 games at Salt Lake. With Wilson in support of Mathis, Napoli can return to the DH role, where he flourished during Guerrero’s absence.

Halladay, Angels could be a dream fit

The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.

The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.

The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.

Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.

Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.

The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.

The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.

The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.

The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.

When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.

This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.  

      

Too early to give up on Vlad

He’s finished. Swings at everything. Can’t get around on good fastballs. Can’t run. He used to be so great. What a shame to see him like this.

We’ve heard this before about Vladimir Guerrero.

One year and one month ago, to be precise.

Guerrero came into June last season in a sub-.250, horrendous slump. Doomsayers were writing him off left and right, claiming age — he was at least 45, right? — finally had caught up with the Angels’ great right fielder.

Well, he had a fairly strong response to that, if you’ll recall. Going on an absolute tear, Vladimir Nizao Guerrero, from Nizao, Dominican Republic, finished the season at .303 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs.

Considering how dismal his first two months had been, those numbers were a little astonishing. They enabled him to join Lou Gehrig as the only players in history with at least 25 homers and a .300 or higher batting average for 11 consecutive seasons. Nice company to keep,the Iron Horse.

The streak stops this season. There is no way Vlad is going to reach 25 homers, having stroked just one in his first 132 at-bats. The Angels are hoping the power stroke comes back a month later than last season, when he began to drive the ball in June and carried it to the finish line.

He is having a hard time getting any lift in his swing, grounding into eight double plays, more than one-sixth of the team’s total. In situations where he needs a fly ball, he’s rolling over and hitting ground balls to shortstop.

Manager Mike Scioscia and the staff have talked about moving him down in the order, to relieve whatever pressure the big bopper is feeling. But he was back in the No. 4 spot on Wednesday night for the series finale against the Rockies, between Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera, the club’s most productive hitters this season along with Kendry Morales.

It has to be killing Guerrero, but he doesn’t show it. He’s the same easy-going, humble, graceful guy he’s always been. The only difference is the streamlined look atop his head, making him look quite a bit younger than his 34 years.

“Right now,” Scioscia said, “he’s searching for some things. He’s a little frustrated. He has taken on challenges [in his career] like not many guys I’ve seen. It’s incredible, as banged up as he’s been, to put the numbers up and perform at his level. He’s as good as it gets in taking challenges.

“He’s expanded his zone and is long to the ball in some of his at-bats. Where his bat path is right now, he’s going to work hard to adjust that. Mickey [Hatcher, hitting coach] has been working with him on some things. He needs at-bats — move him [down] in the batting order, a day off. Hopefully, with some of these small adjustments he’s going to feel comfortable and start driving the ball the way we know he can.”

Guerrero, who went 3-for-3 in San Francisco in a pinch-hitting role, will return to that duty against the Diamondbacks when the Angels wrap up Interleague Play in Phoenix over the weekend.

That will have him rested for a series against the Rangers in Arlington, where he has a history of crushing balls. Maybe he’ll find himself deep in the heart of Texas — and quiet the critics again.    

Recalling fatherly wisdom

When Gary “Sarge” Matthews was teaching his son the finer points of the game during Gary Jr.’s youth, there were insights and expressions culled from a life spent in baseball that resonate all these years later with the Angels’ outfielder.

“My dad used to tell me that he could teach me how to hit breaking balls and changeups – but either you can hit a fastball or you can’t,” Gary Jr. was saying on Father’s Day, his dad in Philadelphia where he works as a commentator on Phillies telecasts.

“My dad is as old school as it gets. That still rings true, but I have formed my own opinions over the years. I think one change in the game is that pitchers have evolved and now throw more breaking balls for strikes. Controlling the breaking ball, and not relying on fastballs as much early in counts, has changed things.”

In Detroit on the recent road trip, Matthews launched a 100-mph heater by Joel Zumaya – the hardest thrower in the game – deep into the right-field seats, foul. He’d turned on triple digits and was a split-second out in front of it, a display of remarkably quick hands.

On Saturday night at Angel Stadium, Matthews came off the bench in the ninth inning and launched a fastball from Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton into the seats in right center, turning a 6-2 deficit into what would be a 6-4 loss. It was the first Angels pinch-hit homer of the year and the fourth of Matthews’ career.

“I’ve never been accused of not being able to hit a fastball,” Matthews said, grinning.

Walking past Matthews’ locker, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, “You can’t put one past him.”

Matthews is a man without a position, a man who wants to play every day but has no steady job with the Angels. Juan Rivera has been on fire in left, joining Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu in the outfield with Vladimir Guerrero absorbing designated-hitter at-bats.

Matthews has made it clear all season that he doesn’t think of himself as a backup and will not be happy in that role. He thinks he’s one of the game’s most gifted center fielders, and Hunter – the best – agrees. But that is not much consolation. When you’re an athlete and you’re sitting, you don’t feel right.

All Matthews can do now is accept his role and make the best of a difficult situation. He is an expensive insurance policy, a card that will remain in manager Mike Scioscia’s deck most of the time until someone in front of him is injured or falls into a major slump.

“Not much I can do about it,” Matthews said. “I’ll just keep working and be ready when I’m called on.”

His old-school dad is on the cellphone with his son all the time, offering perspective, support, all the things a young man needs when he’s frustrated.

It is possible something could happen around the July 31 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, Matthews acquiring sudden appeal to a club in need of a quality center fielder. His salary – he’s in the third year of a five-year, $50 million contract – makes it unlikely. And not because Matthews has the contractual right to refuse a trade, as Jake Peavy did when the White Sox and Padres had worked out a deal.

Matthews yearns to be an everyday center fielder, but he’s on a club that employs the game’s best. It’s like being the guy who thought he’d have a crack at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo showed up with his brushes and paints.
   

Guerrero starts to throw

It wasn’t all gloom and despair in the Angels’ dugout before Monday night’s game against the Giants with Kelvim Escobar going to the DL and Ervin Santana having his start on Tuesday night pushed back because of shoulder discomfort.

Vladimir Guerrero, who can light up any room with his smile, was beaming as he signed autographs before taking batting practice.

The big bopper started his throwing program on Monday — small steps, but important ones — and you just know he can’t wait to get back on the field.

“It felt good,” Vlad said through that luminous smile. “It’s a start, right?”

We have these conversations where I speak Spanish and he speaks English, and they can be immensely enjoyable to both of us. When he bounded into the dugout with Maicer Izturis and Kendry Morales and I said, in Spanish, “three handsome Latino ballplayers,” he laughed and said, “No, two.”

I have a pretty good idea which of the three he wasn’t calling handsome, but I’m not saying. It wouldn’t be good for club harmony.  

Napoli, Kendrick searching for hits

The focus has been on Vladimir Guerrero the past few days in his return from a torn pectoral muscle, but deeper struggles are ongoing with Mike Napoli and Howard Kendrick, two of the Angels’ most lethal offensive weapons.

Napoli, mired in a 1-for-24 slump, was not in the lineup on Saturday night. Jeff Mathis got the call behind the plate against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, a man Mathis has homered twice against.

Napoli was on fire in the designated hitter role, but a return to full-time catching has coincided with an offensive slumber. He lined out to center in his first at-bat on Friday night against lefty Jason Vargas before striking out twice and popping up.

Napoli’s average has fallen to .275 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 131 at-bats. Mathis is batting .229 and has 12 RBIs without a homer in 70 at-bats.

“Nap is a dangerous guy in that batter’s box,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He can hit the ball out to all parts of the field, and he has a good eye. Right now, he’s just having a little trouble squaring up some pitches that he had been hitting.”

After showing signs of breaking out on the road trip to Texas, L.A. and Seattle, Kendrick is hitless in 11 at-bats on the homestand, his average plunging to 229. He came into the season with a .306 Major Leager batting average after hitting .360 in the Minor Leagues.

Maicer Izturis got the start at second after Kendrick grounded out twice and struck out on Friday night.

“It’s a little spotty,” Scioscia said of Kendrick’s progress. “At times it looks like he’s making some strides. And there are times he looks a little frustrated, trying to do too much with pitches rather than square it up. He’s working hard. It’s something Mickey [Hatcher] is paying attention to. Hopefully, some hits will start to fall.”

Meanwhile, in Triple-A Salt Lake, versatile Sean Rodriguez is getting a lot of hits to fall — more than a few landing beyond walls. He has 17 homers and 50 RBIs with a .280 average through 46 games, slugging at a .652 clip.

“Sean started slowly, but he’s been putting some great swings on the ball,” Angels reliever Rich Thompson said, having played alongside Rodriguez in Salt Lake before getting called to Anaheim. “I’ve seen Howie when he gets hot, too, and pitchers can’t do anything with him. He hits shots everywhere. That will come, I’m sure. He’s too good a hitter.”

 

 

  

Willits in, Matthews out

Gary Matthews Jr. was a late scratch on Wednesday evening after experiencing tightness in his lower back. Replacing Matthews in right field and in the No. 2 spot in the order against Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was Reggie Willits, making his first start of the season.

Willits,recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on May 5, is hitless in two career at-bats against Wakefield.

Willits, who set a club record for rookies in batting average (.293) and on-base percentage (.391) in 2007, has had two at-bats in three game appearances this year. He’s 0-for-1 with a sacrifice, having gotten a sacrifice bunt down on Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter for Juan Rivera.

Willits, fifth in the 2007 American League Rookie of the Year balloting, is trying to recapture the form that made him a valuable member of that division-winning team after an injury-riddled 2008.

Matthews is hitting .271 with 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored in 19 games as an all-purpose outfielder and occasional DH.

Before Tuesday night’s game, Willits was joking with Rivera about replacing him after Rivera had gunned down a runner at the plate with a perfect throw from left center.

Asked if he had ever bunted in a Major League game, Rivera searched his memory and recalled a two-strike bunt he executed in 2005. The slugging Venezuelan actually had two sacrifice bunts that season.

Nobody could imagine Vladimir Guerrero ever being asked to bunt, however. It turns out Guerrero does have one sacrifice bunt in his professional career — with the Expos’ rookie team in 1993, his first pro season. He was 18.

 

 

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