Thoughts on a few hot topics of the day:
Peter Bourjos vs. Mike Trout
Who’s faster? And where will they play when they’re in the same outfield?
These are questions I get all the time. There is no definitive answer to the matter of speed. My guess is Trout is more explosive in the first 20 to 30 yards, but Bourjos would catch him and nip him at the wire at 100 yards. Everyone would like to see them race, but it’s actually better this way, keeping the debate alive as we watch these two phenomenal athletes grow into whatever they become.
My guess is that Bourjos, with great reads and a better arm, will remain in center field and win close to as many Rawlings Gold Gloves as his mentor, Torii Hunter, who owns nine. Bourjos is already the best, in my view, and can only get better.
Bourjos has the ability to be a highly productive offensive player, hitting in the .280 to .320 range consistently with 50 to 70 steals. He has the hand and bat speed and the willingness to put in the necessary work to make it happen.
Trout’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel-esque: colorful and enormous. I’m not sure he’ll ever be quite as good as Bourjos defensively, but he’ll be close. And he has the talent to be one of the game’s best total hitters. Still not quite 20, he won’t come into his power for a few more years, at which time I think you’ll see him land in the 25-30 homer range with triple digits in runs scored and RBIs. He has the tools to contend for batting titles.
With Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu coming back, there’s no need to rush Trout. But he might force his way into the outfield rotation next season. If he does, I see him in left. And that’s where I see him for a long time, giving the Angels the best left fielder in the game to go along with the premier center fielder, Bourjos.
Something else to ponder: Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Trout forming the fastest, most electric top third of a batting order anyone has seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Aybar is almost as swift as Bourjos and Trout.
Oh, and the guy hitting behind them, cleaning up by driving in loads of runs? Mark Trumbo. This guy is on his way to becoming one of the game’s most feared power hitters. He has the skill and the will and, the most underrated part of the formula, rare common-sense intelligence.
The best is coming for Angels fans. Patience is no virtue, I understand, when it’s all about winning RIGHT NOW. But there’s a whole lot of gold here waiting to be mined in the future.
Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis
The collision of the front-running Rangers, with Napoli fitting in beautifully behind the plate and in the lineup, and the pursuing Angels, with Mathis doing his customary solid defensive work while scuffling offensively, has touched off an old debate among the so-called faithful.
A small segment of fandom seems to appreciate what Mathis has done for a pitching staff that has been the foundation of the Angels’ success. A much larger segment preferred, and still prefers, Napoli’s booming bat. Now that Nap also is putting together an impressive catcher’s ERA with a superb Texas staff, his supporters – and those who just don’t like Mathis – are coming unglued on web sites attacking Mathis, manager Mike Scioscia for playing him, and yours truly for defending him.
The venom is totally out of proportion to the reality, but when emotion gets involved, all logic goes out the proverbial window. I’m an idiot, and so is Scioscia, evidently, for continuing to defend and, in Mike’s case, play a guy WHO CAN’T HIT .200.
Numbers, thrown out to defend any position, now hold the game hostage. It’s all about all these categories I can’t even define. Watching and enjoying the game is secondary now. Sometimes it’s as if the stat people would be thrilled if they just stopped playing the game altogether and let them give us the results through their computers. Everything is so cut and dried, preordained statistically, they might as well do that.
In response to all those who insist I am biased toward Mathis, I would ask you to please, if you get a chance, ask Napoli our relationship when he was with the Angels. I’m pretty sure he’d tell you he had no bigger supporter, in or out of the media.
I’m thrilled to see Napoli with a big smile on his face, having a great time. He’s a good guy. So is his best buddy, Mathis. Their relationship has remained rock solid through their years of competing for playing time, which tells you a lot about both of them.
They used to joke that if you combined their talents, you’d have Johnny Bench. And that wasn’t far from the truth. Given the relative popularity of the two, it’s obvious about 95 percent of fandom would take Bench’s power over his defense.
Mathis knows he needs to hit. That’s his problem. He has to relax and let his natural athletic ability flow. He’s one of the five best athletes in the clubhouse, and if that ever happens, if he ever unlocks himself, he can be a decent offensive player.
The Mathis haters, of course, will laugh, as always. Go ahead. It’s your prerogative. Just please try not to be so hostile in expressing yourself. It cheapens your position.
Howard Kendrick vs. Howie Kendrick
Most everyone calls him Howie, but I’m sticking with Howard for one reason: Jody, his wife, calls him Howard, and so do other family members, from what I understand. If that’s who he is to those closest to him, I’ll go with that. Mike Scioscia calls him Howie because he believes there should be a separation between the athlete and the private person. Mike and I sometimes disagree.
At Spring Training a few years ago, another person close to Kendrick told me “there’s nothing Howie about him,” adding that he’s just too nice a guy to even care what people call him.
Kendrick once told me that Howie first surfaced next to his name early in his career when a bubble-gum company put that on his card. I remembered seeing (and hating) Bob Clemente, not Roberto, on a card when I was a kid. So I guess that’s another reason why I write Howard Kendrick, not Howie.
No big deal. Just setting the record straight from my perspective. – Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. – Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, recuperating from surgery for the removal of a cancerous nodule in his thyroid gland, was back with his guys, back on the job, on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Butcher missed the first two days of camp as he was regaining strength following the surgical procedure on Thursday. He was studying deliveries and release points and offering suggestions, as always, as his pitchers began getting a feel for things.
“He’s still coordinating everything,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s feeling stronger. He’s staying in tune with where guys are.”
The team had been sending Butcher, entering his fifth season as the director of the staff, video of bullpen sessions for him to study from his home in nearby Chandler during his recovery.
One of the biggest challenges for Scioscia and Butcher will be sorting through a dozen legitimate candidates for six or seven bullpen roles. What they don’t want is for borderline candidates to try to do too much too soon in order to make an impression.
“It’s always something in the spring you’re going to worry about,” Scioscia said. “When a guy pitches in the spring, he has to cover hurdles. If a guy’s stiff or struggling with 12-minute bullpens, you’re not going to pitch him in a game. You’re not going to put a guy out there when he’s not ready to pitch.
“Right now, it looks like 12 [pitchers total]. If guys have length, it might be 11. That depth chart is going to be real.”
Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi would seem to be locks, leaving Jason Bulger, Matt Palmer, Trevor Bell, Michael Kohn, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Cassevah in competition for the remaining three spots.
Howard Kendrick is a proud papa again. Kendrick, with son Owen in tow, arrived with the news that wife Jody presented him with a second son, Tyson, on Feb. 10. “Everybody is doing great,” Kendrick said. “I’m a lucky guy.” . . . Scioscia on Scott Kazmir’s early progress: “He looks good, nice and easy. What is impressive was his easy delivery and the ball was jumping out of his hand – which is what we saw in ’09.” The goal is to get Kazmir back to his smooth, relaxed delivery, rather than forcing it with max effort that disrupts his command. – Lyle Spencer
CHICAGO — Too bad Major League Baseball no longer showcases a second All-Star Game.
With Jered Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Howard Kendrick denied invitations to represent the American League in the All-Star Game in their home park, the Angels are not alone in their frustration and confusion.
So many qualified players were overlooked this season, MLB could stage a second Midsummer Classic with those neglected athletes and it would be almost as talent-rich as the one that will unfold on July 13.
I was dumbfounded when I learned Weaver, leading the Majors in strikeouts with a 2.82 ERA and 8-3 record, wasn’t chosen. I figured he was a dead-solid lock. You can make a strong case that he has been as good as any starter in the league, rising to the challenge of replacing good buddy John Lackey as the no-nonsense, no-doubt ace of the staff.
In fact, Weaver was that guy last season but nobody seemed to notice. This should be his second straight year in the All-Star Game, but he’ll be home with family members, pulling for Torii Hunter to represent his team with his customary passion, style and grace.
Hunter was visibly distressed when he learned that Weaver and Kendrick, who has been durable and productive, didn’t get the call. It stripped from Torii much of the satisfaction he took from earning the vote of his peers.
But even there, I was baffled. How could Jose Bautista of Toronto claim 10 more votes from the players than Hunter, who finished sixth in the players’ balloting? Sure, he’s hit a lot of home runs this season, but in no way, shape or form does Bautista compare with Hunter as a total performer.
The players’ infatuation with the Blue Jays, currently one game below .500, was puzzling. Vernon Wells is having a terrific season, but he’s not in my view the player Carl Crawford is. Yet Wells collected 64 more player votes than Crawford to finish third, ahead of the Rays’ star.
And don’t even get me started on the catching outcome. Toronto’s John Buck was third on the players’ ballots, ahead of Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, arguably the most underrated player in the game. The only area of the game where Buck compares with Suzuki is in lifting big flies.
By taking Suzuki, rather than Buck, to replace injured Victor Martinez on the AL roster, manager Joe Girardi could then have taken Weaver rather than right-hander Trevor Cahill, the Athletics’ representative. A promising right-hander, Cahill is having a solid season, but he is not in Weaver’s class yet.
In Suzuki and Weaver, the AL would have two truly deserving, no-doubt All-Stars.
Yes, Weaver is due to work on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game, making him ineligible to pitch in the game. But that didn’t prevent Girardi and the AL decision-makers from selecting CC Sabathia, whose spot was awarded to Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte. If Nick Swisher, running second behind Kevin Youkilis in the Final Vote, joins the party, that would be eight Yankees All-Stars, if you’re counting.
Hunter, as the lone All-Star from the Angels, clearly must be the league’s MVP at this point in keeping his team in the hunt for what would be a fourth consecutive AL West title.
As for the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler getting the call over Kendrick, the players could not have been paying enough attention to what these two second baseman have done this season. Kendrick clearly has been the more productive performer, given all the games Kinsler has missed.
The lack of respect shown the Angels was just as glaring with their neighbors to the south. Padres manager Buddy Black, Mike Scioscia’s former pitching coach, has done a masterful job with that club. The Padres had at least three richly-deserving pitching candidates for the big show and none got the call.
Judging by the performances of their teams, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, like Hunter, must be the MVP at the midway point of the season. The first baseman is the only representative of the club with the NL’s best record.
One final thought, regarding the phenom: Stephen Strasburg should be in this game. The whole point of elevating the importance of the All-Star Game in attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner was to make sure that the best players competed at a high level and didn’t coast through the game.
If you’re the NL, and you’re serious about ending the AL’s run of dominance, you want Strasburg on the mound for an inning or two. You can’t tell me there are 13 better pitchers in the National League than this kid. I’m not sure there are three better than Strasburg. – Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM – With Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list, there is a strong chance the Angels will have three All-Stars in uniform when they host the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Angel Stadium.
Torii Hunter and Jered Weaver certainly deserve to represent the American League, and Howard Kendrick also has moved front and center as a legitimate candidate.
Kendrick, who banged his 50th RBI with a first-inning double against C.J. Wilson and the Rangers on Thursday night, is the logical candidate to join the Yankees’ Robinson Cano on the American League roster.
Kendrick has been the most durable of the Angels, and one of the steadiest offensively and defensively. Only Cano among Major League second baseman have driven in more runs than Kendrick, who flourished in the leadoff role when Erick Aybar was out with a knee injury.
Kendrick went through a stretch when he was hitting in terrible luck, drilling balls at gloves on a nightly basis, but the hits started falling and he’s been on a roll, batting .342 over his past 18 games.
A natural hitter with a stroke reminiscent of Derek Jeter’s, Kendrick has put in most of his work on the defensive end – and it is paying off with improved glove work, notably in turning the double play.
“Howie’s having a terrific season,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly deserving of All-Star consideration.”
Hunter makes an even stronger case.
“Howard belongs on the team,” Hunter said. “He deserves it.” – Lyle Spencer
Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going with a new look starting tonight against the A’s and Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.
Here’s the lineup Scioscia plans to go with for now, with Maicer Izturis due to come off the disabled list (right shoulder tightness) next week and assume a larger role in the 1 or 2 spots:
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Hideki Matsui, DH
7. Juan Rivera, LF
8. Mike Napoli, C
9. Brandon Wood, 3B
The Angels were 60-35 last season with Abreu batting third and 27-19 when Hunter hit cleanup. These were their best records with those hitters in those roles. Only Vladimir Guerrero (43-39) batted fourth more often than Hunter. — Lyle Spencer
TORONTO – While watching Joe Saunders duel fellow lefty Brian Tallent on a very cold Saturday in Canada . .
Howard Kendrick, in the No. 2 hole for the first time this season, powers the eighth pitch of the day by lefty Brian Tallet into the seats in left center for a 2-0 lead following Erick Aybar’s five-pitch walk. Kendrick used to hit behind Aybar in the Minors and will be a dream No. 2 hitter with experience. He drives the ball almost as hard to the opposite-field as one of his role models, Derek Jeter, who always offers encouragement when they share the same field — as they did for three days at Yankee Stadium.
Brandon Wood, a terrific young athlete trying maybe a little too desperately to find his way, finally takes his offensive struggles to the field with errors on consecutive plays. He misplays a hop on the carpet, creating one unearned run, then bounces a throw past first baseman Kendry Moralels for another unearned run. These are mistakes Wood does not make when he’s feeling in tune with the planet, but that isn’t the case at the moment.
There’s something terribly unsettling about Rogers Centre these days. It’s like watching a horror film alone in an empty theatre on a dark afternoon – and hearing lonely voices screaming and hollering “Lyle!” in the distant reaches. They’re all over that other Lyle, Overbay, for his terrible start, and it can’t be doing the Blue Jays first baseman any good. I know it isn’t doing much for me.
“O Canada,” the civilized world’s most beautiful anthem, sung by anyone with a decent voice. I used to get chills coming to the old Montreal Forum and hearing the legendary Roger Doucet do his tenor version before Canadiens games. There was something majestic about that voice and that song, unlike anything I’ve heard since. — Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. — Angels infielder Maicer Izturis left Saturday’s game against the Giants at Tempe Diablo Stadium with stiffness in his back during his only at-bat, grounding into a double play in the second inning.
“He felt a little stiffness in his back, mid-back, on one of his swings,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said following a 4-3 victory. “He’s fine. It was a precaution. I don’t think it’s going to be more than a couple days. He might feel good tomorrow. He might be ready when we have our split-squad [games on Monday].”
Izturis, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal this winter, is having a strong spring, hitting .351 in 37 at-bats. He provides quality support at third base, shortstop and second base, where he was stationed on Saturday with Howard Kendrick getting a day off.
Angels starter Joe Saunders “felt good, real good” about his 4 1/3 innings, yielding three earned runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out six men, including three in a row after loading the bases with singles in the fourth.
“When the heat’s on like that,” Saunders said, “you can treat it like a Spring Training game or say, `Hey, let’s get out of this and minimize damage.’ I tried to get ahead of guys and threw a little bit of everything.
“In the fifth, I fell behind a couple guys and threw a two-seamer to [Bengie] Molina. He got extended and dropped the barrel on it. I fell behind 1-0 and had to come with a strike. He’s a good hitter.”
Molina rocketed a three-run double after two walks and a single to give the Giants the lead, but the Angels rallied for two in the sixth against Barry Zito. Erick Aybar, who has reached base safely eight of his past 12 plate appearances, walked and scored on Torii Hunter’s double, Hunter scoring on Hideki Matsui’s RBI single. Aybar had singled in front of Bobby Abreu’s homer in the third to right center, Abreu’s second of the spring.
Scioscia liked the offensive continuity and Saunders’ work – until he lost command in the fifth. The lefty went to the bullpen to finish his work.
There were several positive developments with the pitching staff. Scott Kazmir, saying he was “completely over” left shoulder stiffness that took him out of his most recent start, threw a 60-pitch power bullpen and is set to go on Tuesday against the Brewers in Tempe.
The bullpen excelled after Saunders’ departure, starting with young right-hander Bobby Cassevah. He induced a double-play grounder to end the fifth and worked a perfect sixth. Kevin Jepsen, Scot Shields (working his second day in a row) and Fernando Rodney each delivered scoreless innings, Rodney closing it out by striking out two of the three men he faced in the ninth. – Lyle Spencer
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
The agreement the Angels reached with Maicer Izturis on Monday goes well beyond the standard settlement avoiding the sometimes difficult arbitration process.
Izturis signed for three years, taking him off the free-agency market for two winters. What this does is keep intact one of the Majors’ best young infields, assuring manager Mike Scioscia of virtually unmatched depth with Izturis in support of Howard Kendrick at second base, Erick Aybar at shortstop and Brandon Wood at third base, with emerging star Kendry Morales at first.
At 29, Izturis is the elder statesman of the group, one of the most respected players in the clubhouse. Maicer lockered alongside Chone Figgins, and Figgins never stopped raving about Izturis’ skills and commitment.
A smart hitter who thrives in pressure situations — he’s a .327 career hitter in 492 at-bats, almost the equivalent of a full season — Izturis can be a productive hitter in the first two spots in the order or from fifth on down.
Even if Wood has a great spring and flourishes as the third baseman, Izturis will get plenty of playing time. Scioscia will make sure of that. There are few hitters he’d rather have at the plate in a big situation.
Defensively, Izturis doesn’t have Aybar’s acrobatic style and is a half-step slower than the electric Aybar, but he’s the most sure-handed of all the infielders. Izturis made two errors at second in 68 starts in 2009, two errors in 28 starts at shortstop and no errors in five starts at third. That’s four errors in 390 total chances — a dazzling .990 fielding percentage.
Izturis had 13 steals in 18 attempts in 2009 and would like to double that total if he gets enough at-bats leading off or batting second.
“Stealing bases is part of my game,” he said. “I love to run the bases.”
He also loves to hit and defend, and he’ll be doing it for the next three seasons in an Angels uniform.
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.