Reaching out to new candidates
As promised, the Angels are doing their due diligence in identifying their next general manager.
Kim Ng, former assistant GM of the Dodgers currently employed by MLB in international operations, is the latest to draw the interest of owner Arte Moreno’s management team, according to ESPN, which also reports that Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine has caught the Angels’ eye as a candidate.
Ng has extensive front office experience. In addition to her nine seasons with the Dodgers, she also worked for the Yankees, as an assistant GM, and the White Sox. She would become the first woman to be hired as a Major League GM if she is the choice.
Levine has ties to Southern California as well. A UCLA graduate, he worked for the Dodgers for a year before joining the Rangers and having a voice in their rise behind club president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels over the past six seasons. Levine spent six years with the Rockies in a variety of roles before moving to Texas.
Among other candidates who have surfaced in media reports are the Diamondbacks’ Jerry Dipoto and the Yankees’ Damon Oppenheimer and Billy Eppler. — Lyle Spencer
Angels looking east for GM?
Names are starting to drop in the Angels’ general manager pursuit. According to a tweet by the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have granted owner Arte Moreno and Co. permission to meet with two of their executives, Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer.
Another report, by Jon Heyman of SI.com, has the Angels eyeing Oppenheimer, the Yanks’ scouting director, and Jerry Dipoto of the Diamondbacks.
According to Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun, deposed Angels GM Tony Reagins could be in the hunt in Baltimore for the Orioles’ GM job. The list of prospective candidates there is long. — Lyle Spencer
To deal or not to deal
NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.
Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.
There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.
Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.
The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.
There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.
The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.
If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer
Where’s support for Hunter?
The Angels are hosting the All-Star Game on July 13. It’s a pretty big deal. You’d think their fans would be doing everything they can to make sure one of their players — ideally, their best player, Torii Hunter — would be in the starting lineup for the American League.
You’d think that would be the case, but you’d be wrong. It’s a clear case of voter apathy in Orange and its neighboring counties.
Angels fans are sitting around not voting, evidently. They do a lot of complaining about what they have and don’t have, judging by my emails, but they’re not too interested in voting. They’re content to let eight other players start the game, without representation from the hometown team that has won its division the past three seasons and five of the past six.
Hunter is seventh in the AL outfield. That’s ridiculous. You can make a case that the three guys leading in the balloting — Ichiro, Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton — are all deserving. They’re having big seasons, and they’re talented, charismatic players.
I’d take Hunter in a heartbeat over any of the three.
I’m biased, of course. I’m around Torii every day and see what he does on the field, in the clubhouse, in general life. He’s as good as it gets. He should be in center field when this All-Star Game unfolds.
What’s really absurd is that a pair of Yankees — Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher — are running ahead of Hunter in the voting. I’m pretty sure they’d both agree they’re not in Hunter’s class as all-around players.
Hunter is having another big year. He started one All-Star Game, in Milwaukee in 2002, and made one of the most memorable plays in the history of the Midsummer Classic, scaling the wall in center to snatch a home run away from Barry Bonds.
Hunter is clutch. He goes all out, all the time. He lives for the moment and represents his sport as well as any athlete anywhere.
It’s a shame the fans aren’t doing their part to take care of a guy who never stops taking care of others. — Lyle Spencer
Pulling hard for `Doc’ Roberts
This has been a distressing week, and I’m not talking about the Angels’ struggles to score runs and stop clubs from abusing their pitching staff.
Two giants of the game, Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts, have passed away in the past two days. They lived a combined 175 years and made wonderful use of their time on the planet, enriching countless lives in countless ways. They were among the very best the sport had to offer.
Stunning news arrived earlier in the week in the form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma having invaded the body of Dave Roberts, who also has enriched the game in ways both small and large. Roberts, smart, intuitive, irrepressibly upbeat, is meeting this challenge head-on, committed to overcoming this obstacle and living a long, rich life, just as Harwell and Roberts did.
If there is any justice, Roberts will be alive into his 80s, making people laugh and feel good about themselves, like those two gentlemen.
I came to know “Doc,” as we called him, during the two seasons he played for the Padres and I covered them on a daily basis for MLB.com. He was what we call in the business a “go-to guy,” much like Torii Hunter is with the Angels. In hard times, when players are disinclined to talk about their team’s troubles and their own, there hopefully are those who can be counted on to offer insights no matter how dire the straits.
Dave Roberts, with the Padres and the other teams he graced, was one of those athletes, just as Hunter is a magnet for Angels beat writers.
In 2005, Roberts was coming off his triumph in Boston, when he stole a base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that triggered one of the greatest comebacks – and stories – in the game’s history. Roberts is a part of New England lore for his lore in exorcising those Bambino curses and ghost.
Coming home to San Diego, Roberts led off and played center field in 2005 for a club that made the postseason, getting swept by the Cardinals. He played the game with passion and intelligence. One thing nagged at him: his reputation for being fragile. We collaborated on several articles that knocked down this widely-held perception.
Athletes given to hurling themselves into the game, as Roberts did and Hunter does, put themselves in harm’s way. It has nothing to do with being injury-prone. It’s simply the by-product of playing full-tilt, with abandon.
In ’06, Roberts moved over to left to accommodate the arrival of Mike Cameron, a man Hunter considers one of the three premier defensive center fielders of the generation. In right was Brian Giles, completing a wonderfully productive outfield.
There was one horrific moment involving Roberts that season that seemed to characterize his career. Pursuing a fly ball at Angel Stadium, he rammed his right knee into the base of the fence in left field chasing what turned out to be an inside-the-park homer by Dallas McPherson.
“The only way for him to stop his momentum is to slide — and he smoked his knee good,” Giles said. “That’s the way Doc approaches it. Hopefully, it’s a bruised kneecap and he’ll be out a few days.”
Roberts — a star quarterback in high school who could have been a defensive back at UCLA but focused instead on baseball – soon was back in his leadoff role, creating havoc. He stole a career-high 49 bases in 55 attempts in ’06 and would have exceeded 50 if not for that incident in Anaheim. In 129 games, he scored 80 runs, another career best.
The Padres were a joy to cover. With Mike Piazza behind the plate, Adrian Gonzalez emerging at first base, Khalil Greene and Josh Barfield looking like future stars in the middle of the infield, and Jake Peavy, Chris Young and the great Trevor Hoffman anchoring the pitching staff, this was a good team, seemingly on the verge of even better things.
They won the NL West again, and the Cardinals took them out in four games in the NLDS on their way to a World Series triumph.
Doc moved on to San Francisco in 2007 and ended his career as a Giant – fittingly – in ’08. He did some broadcasting work for the Red Sox last year and was in Spring Training, getting in a uniform and teaching young Padres some tricks in his new role as a club executive, when Hodgkin’s surfaced. Treatments began, and he is telling people he’s optimistic he’ll beat it.
Not surprisingly, he kept working with those young Padres. Their totally unexpected start, bolting out of the gate this season under manager Bud Black, might not be a coincidence.
Good teams and things seem to follow Doc Roberts around. It could be all those good vibes he passes around, without even trying. They don’t make them any better than this guy. – Lyle Spencer
Peer support for Wood
ANAHEIM – Kevin Kouzmanoff has been there, done that. The terrible start. The mental strain and drain. He knows what Brandon Wood has been going through in his search for quality at-bats and line drives that find open spaces, not gloves.
For Kouzmanoff, now the third baseman for the Athletics, it happened in 2007, after he was acquired by the Padres from the Indians in exchange for Josh Barfield. His start with San Diego was every bit as discouraging as what Wood is enduring, lugging a .102 batting average into Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees with five hits in 49 at-bats.
Kouzmanoff was batting .108 in 93 at-bats on May 7. The Padres were close to demoting him, but when third baseman Russell Branyan left the team after a relative died, Kouzmanoff was kept in the lineup by manager Bud Black, former pitching coach for Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
From May 8 to season’s end, he batted .309 with 17 home runs in 118 games.
“It was very frustrating,” Kouzmanoff said. “I was afraid to go out in public. It was embarrassing. I was lucky to have teammates who were pulling for me and to have a manager who believed in me. But I knew I could play the game. It was just a matter of bringing it out.
“I’ve watched [Wood] and he’s a good player. He’s here for a reason. He just needs to stick with it.”
Wood delivered in a big situation on Sunday against the Yankees. With his team down by a run and the bases loaded with one out in the fourth, Wood sent Javier Vazquez’s first pitch, a curveball, on a line to left. It fell in front of a tumbling Marcus Thames for a two-run double. Wood had been hitting in bad luck, having been robbed on a number of occasions of hits and RBIs on diving plays.
The kid was due for a break, and he finally got one to fall. — Lyle Spencer
Fuentes to DL; Willits, Rodriguez recalled
The Angels have placed closer Brian Fuentes on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 6, making him eligible to return on April 21.
Fuentes said he tweaked a muscle mid-back on the left side on April 6 after making a save in the season opener the day before. He has not pitched since but feels he is mending and threw again, playing catch, for the first time on Tuesday and again before Wednesday’s game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Fernando Rodney, Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen are expected to share ninth-inning duties until Fuentes returns. Rodney was 37 for 38 in save opportunities for Detroit last season and likely will get first call, manager Mike Scioscia said.
“I was lifting weights — I just picked up a dumbbell, and it was a freak thing,” Fuentes said. “I didn’t have a lot of weights. I saw a chiropractor, and he said he didn’t believe anything was structurally wrong. It’s a tissue issue. With the rehab we’ve done, it seems to be getting better.”
The Angels recalled outfielder Reggie Willits from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he was rehabbing a strained hamstring, and reliever Francisco Rodriguez from Triple-A Salt Lake while reliever Bobby Cassevah was returned to Salt Lake.
Another move will be required on Thursday when Scott Kazmir is activated to start the series finale against the Yankees. Kazmir pitched a rehab game at Rancho Cucamonga on Friday after experiencing left shoulder tightness on March 25 and missing a turn in the rotation.– Lyle Spencer
Matsui gets a look in left
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers, the Angels’ Hideki Matsui gets his first start in the outfield today since June 15, 2008 when he plays left and bats fourth.
Hindered by knee problems, Matsui did not play at all in the outfield for the Yankees last season, limiting him to designated-hitter duties only. He took full advantage of his three DH appearances in the World Series to claim the Series MVP award for his bashing of the Phillies for the Bronx Bombers.
“He could play in Fenway Park or anywhere,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked why he chose to play Matsui in the outfield in an unfamiliar park. “He needs to get his prep steps, how he feels during games and – even more important – the next day.
“If you’re going to play a full game, you’re talking about 150 prep steps if the pitchers throw 150 pitches. Not that he’s going to play a full game – I imagine it’ll be somewhere around four innings.”
Matsui has been making gradual progress in outfield drills, strengthening his knees while reacquainting himself with the terrain.
“There’s a team element in defense that needs to get pushed forward,” Scioscia said, alluding to the coordination Matsui and center fielder Torii Hunter need to develop. “With Matsui, it’s understanding range with Torii, where he needs to go. It’ll just take a little time for Hideki to get their range down.”
Signed to a one-year, $6 million free agent deal, Matsui expressed a desire to be given a chance to return to the outfield at least on a part-time basis.
The Angels’ plan is to give him a few starts in left a week, if possible, to provide DH opportunities for the other outfielders: Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, along with Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli on occasion.
After missing a week and a half with a strain in his right elbow, shortstop Erick Aybar returned to the lineup on Monday against the Dodgers, leading off.
Scioscia said he did not play Brandon Wood on Sunday against the Mariners at home because he wanted his third baseman to sharpen his coordination with Aybar in a camp game.
“Left side defense is as important as anything you’re going to do,” Scioscia said. “The third baseman has to cover the hole. With Wood and Aybar, we worked on it yesterday. We also had Morales and [Howard] Kendrick on the right side stay back one day to work on it.”
This is the closest Scioscia has come to having his projected lineup together. Jeff Mathis was a last-minute insertion as DH when the Dodgers – using a split squad with a second game against the Brewers — notified the Angels they were freeing up the DH role.
With Matsui in left and Mathis occupying the DH spot, Juan Rivera was the only name missing from the lineup that is expected to be on the field when the Angels open the season on April 5 at home against Minnesota.
Freeing up the DH allowed Scioscia to switch back to Joe Saunders as his starter after deciding he’d go with Matt Palmer under National League rules.
Following Aybar in the lineup are right fielder Abreu, center fielder Hunter, Matsui, Morales, Kendrick, Napoli at catcher, Wood and Mathis.
They’ll be facing right-hander Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pickup bidding to nail down the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is pitching in Phoenix against the Brewers. – Lyle Spencer
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.
Angels have 6:37 p.m. PT start times
Assuming the Yankees choose the longer of the two American League Division Series and open at home on Wednesday against the survivor of Tuesday’s Tigers-Twins showdown, the Angels will kick off their series against the Red Sox on Thursday evening at 6:37 PT.
The game will be televised by TBS and carried on radio by ESPN.
Game 2 of the Angels-Red Sox series also would start at 6:37 p.m. PT on Friday evening. It too will be carried by TBS and ESPN radio.
If the Yankees choose the shorter series, the Angels and Red Sox would meet at 3:07 p.m. PT on Wednesday in Game 1. Game 2 would remain at 6:37 p.m. PT
The Yankees, by virtue of owning the league’s best record, have the option of choosing the longer or shorter of the two series. They have good reason to want to open on Wednesday, given the short turnaround it will be for the winner of Tuesday’s one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins in Minnesota, which will be carried by TBS at 2:07 PT.
The Angels, with the AL’s best record last season, chose the longer series against the Red Sox.
In any case, the Angels’ John Lackey will face Jon Lester in Game 1.