Josh Hamilton started at designated hitter on Tuesday for the second straight day, and third of the last four, due to “a little tightness [in his legs] that we’re just trying to get over,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. The veteran outfielder feels good enough to play the field, but Albert Pujols hasn’t needed to DH of late and so Hamilton will take his starts there when it’s available.
“Why not?” Hamilton said. “Get it when you can.”
Hamilton, batting .297/.374/.441, has DH’d in seven of his 51 starts this season and sees his recent time there as a preventative measure that can ensure he stays fresh for the stretch run.
It’s something the 33-year-old has learned to embrace.
“I used to hate it because I didn’t know what to do to get ready or prepared [for at-bats], that sort of thing,” Hamilton said. “But as you start doing it a little more, you start to get it, figure out what you need to do. It’s all good.”
Some other notes from today …
- Veteran corner infielder Ian Stewart cleared waivers and accepted an outright to Triple-A Salt Lake, thus keeping him in the organization.
- The Angels still have an eight-man bullpen, and Scioscia expects it to stay that way at least leading up to Monday’s off day.
- Mike Trout won the Heart & Hustle Award for the Angels. The award, the only one in the Majors voted on by former players, “honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game,” according to the release.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, DH
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Efren Navarro, LF
Hank Conger, C
SP: LH Hector Santiago (2-7, 4.32 ERA)
Erick Aybar was out of the starting lineup for a third straight day on Monday, a precaution for the sore right groin the Angels’ shortstop suffered while reaching first base on a ninth-inning single against the Mariners on Friday night.
Prior to batting practice, though, Aybar did some light agility drills on the field with strength-and-conditioning coordinator T.J. Harrington, then took some BP and felt good. The 30-year-old — an All-Star for the first time while sporting a .283/.320/.409 slash line — expects to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday and should be available off the bench for Monday’s series opener against the Orioles.
The groin initially bothered the switch-hitter while batting from the right side of the plate.
“But I’m good now, from both sides,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I’ll be ready to go tomorrow. They told me one more day, and then tomorrow I’ll [return to the starting lineup]. But I’m ready for whatever they need today, too.”
Some other notes as the Angels look to build on a Major League-best .824 winning percentage in July …
- As I type this, C.J. Wilson is throwing his first bullpen session since landing on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle on July 10. Wilson said he has “no idea” how much longer he’ll have to be on the shelf. “It’s going to be how does it feel today throwing, and then after throwing tomorrow.” Wilson will eventually have to go out onto a rehab assignment. “I’m going to have to adjust to how it feels, because it’s not just going to heal itself in a week,” he added. “Some of the adjustment is going to have to be pain tolerance and things like that. And just learning how to use a somewhat-destabilized ankle.”
- From Matthew DeFranks: Collin Cowgill rejoined the Angels on Monday and said he should return from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, barring an unforeseen setback. Cowgill broke his nose and thumb after he was hit by a Matt West pitch trying to bunt on July 13. Cowgill, who flew in from his home Kentucky on Sunday night, had stitches removed from his nose on Monday and said it would probably be another few days before he can take any swings.
- The Angels signed veteran catcher John Buck to a Minor League deal and assigned him to Triple-A Salt Lake, where they currently have three active catchers. Buck, 34, was released from the Mariners on Tuesday after batting .226/.293/.286. For the Angels, he can be a third catcher when rosters expand in September — unless he finds an immediate Major League opportunity before then.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Efren Navarro, LF
Hank Conger, C
John McDonald, SS
SP: RH Matt Shoemaker (7-2, 4.38 ERA)
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept his focus on the bullpen. He wants to acquire a situational lefty, and he wants to get another potential closer to solidify a game’s last nine outs. But the Angels haven’t seemed willing to part ways with a package of prospects — what little they have in a farm system they’re still trying to cultivate — and they haven’t sounded like an organization that wants to take on a high-salaried pitcher, a la Cliff Lee and David Price, because it would kill their payroll flexibility and leave them little or no room to address the ‘pen the way they want.
Did that thinking change on Independence Day?
As the Angels were wrapping up the second of a four-game series against the Astros at home on Friday night, the division-rival A’s set off fireworks, acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily, a couple of nice prospects (shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney) and a player to be named later. A team that leads the Majors in winning percentage and run-differential just got a whole lot better. A pitching staff that’s second in the American League in ERA and WHIP got a whole lot stronger.
The Angels are playing very solid baseball lately, winning 11 of 14 after Mike Trout‘s walk-off homer and trailing the A’s by 3 1/2 games for the best record in the AL. But the A’s seemingly took a few more steps forward on Friday, and winning your division is crucial with the expanded playoffs that now include a Wild Card game; the last thing you want is for a 162-game season to ultimately come down to one elimination game.
So do the Angels need to scrap their initial Trade Deadline plans and go after an elite starting pitcher? Do they need to fortify their rotation — one with a solid 3.70 ERA, but also some uncertainties — to keep up with the A’s?
Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia and Dipoto have some thinking to do.
I’ll be taking some vacation time these next couple of weeks. Matthew DeFranks will cover for me at home July 5-9 and 18-20, Lyle Spencer will cover for me in Texas July 10-13, and I’ll be back at it July 21, for the series opener against the Orioles. Be well.
In Wednesday’s 3-2, walk-off loss to the White Sox, Hamilton homered for the second time in as many days — and the fifth time this year — by taking a John Danks changeup out to right field to temporarily tie the game in the eighth.
“Been a while since I hit a home run,” Hamilton said. “They usually come in bunches. It’s good to finally see that changeup up and put a good swing on it. It was a 2-0 changeup. A week ago, I would have missed it because I would have cut my swing off. It’s starting to get there.”
By “cut my swing off,” Hamilton means he wasn’t turning on inside pitches because he was subconsciously compensating for his surgically repaired left thumb, which prompted him to miss nearly two months on the disabled list. For evidence of that, the Angels’ left fielder pointed to a swing he took against hard-throwing Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura on Saturday.
Ventura challenged him with a 96-mph fastball inside, and the left-handed-hitting Hamilton wound up hitting a lazy pop-up to third base.
“Sometimes you do things you don’t know you’re doing until one day you see it and you’re like, ‘Oh man,’” Hamilton said. “Tonight, pitch was in, let it loose.”
The Angels passed the halfway point of their season on Tuesday, and did so emphatically with their first doubleheader sweep since 2009.
It’s perhaps as good a time as any to see how many All-Stars they have.
They produced their most All-Stars in 1979, when Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, Don Baylor, Nolan Ryan and Mark Clear were all chosen for the Midsummer Classic. They probably won’t have that many going to Target Field this year, but they’ll have a few. Below are some names worth mentioning, with statistical comps to those who play their positions in the American League (I excluded Josh Hamilton because he missed so much time) …
OF Mike Trout
BA: .315 (T-1st)
OBP: .410 (2nd)
SLG: .617 (1st)
WAR: 5.0 (1st)
HR: 19 (2nd)
SB: 10 (12th)
Chances: He’s a sure thing. Trout ranks second in the AL in fan votes, trailing only Jose Bautista and already notching more than 4 million, and will start his second straight All-Star Game at 22 years old.
1B Albert Pujols
BA: .257 (8th)
OBP: .312 (10th)
SLG: .467 (6th)
HR: 17 (4th)
WAR: 1.5 (7th)
Chances: He looked like an All-Star again in April, but has dropped off ever since and now there are a handful of other first basemen putting up better numbers. His reputation will have to carry him. If it doesn’t, it will be three straight All-Star Game absences for Pujols.
SS Erick Aybar
BA: .277 (4th)
OBP: .316 (9th)
SLG: .419 (2nd)
HR: 4 (T-4th)
SB: 8 (6th)
WAR: 2.9 (1st)
Chances: Tough to say. Aybar has had a terrific first half, but Derek Jeter is going to start his final All-Star Game, and Aybar typically loses the popularity contests. Alexei Ramirez is also deserving.
SP Garrett Richards
ERA: 2.81 (8th)
WHIP: 1.07 (5th)
W: 9 (T-5th)
SO: 108 (8th)
IP: 109 (14th)
Chances: In my opinion, he should. But like Aybar, he’s just not as big a name — yet. I still think Richards finds a way onto the staff, especially when you consider that so many pitchers back out every year. Winning AL Player of the Month for June wouldn’t hurt, either.
SP Jered Weaver
ERA: 3.56 (20th)
WHIP: 1.16 (T-9th)
W: 9 (T-5th)
SO: 92 (T-12th)
IP: 116 1/3 (5th)
Chances: Like Pujols, he’ll need his track record to carry him to his fourth All-Star Game. Solid year so far, but by no means great.
The Angels acquired veteran left-handed reliever Rich Hill from the Red Sox for cash considerations on Tuesday, adding him to the 40-man roster and optioning right-handed reliever Michael Kohn to Triple-A Salt Lake in order to create a spot in the bullpen.
Hill, 34, is in his fifth Major League organization and carries a 4.74 ERA in 465 2/3 innings from 2005-13. His best season came with the Cubs in 2008, when Hill won 11 games and posted a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts, but he’s been inconsistent ever since and has solely worked out of the bullpen for the last five years.
Hill posted a 6.28 ERA in 63 appearances for the Indians last season, with a 1.73 WHIP and a walk rate of 6.8 in 38 2/3 innings. Hill has spent the 2014 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 3.23 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and a 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games (39 innings).
The Boston native can throw his fastball anywhere from 90 to 95 mph and his best pitch is a big, sweeping curveball. The Angels, without a lefty reliever for most of the season, would like to use him in matchup situations.
“It’s kind of a weird topic for me right now,” Trout said of participating in the Home Run Derby. “I have mixed feelings. I want to do it, and I don’t want to do it.”
Trout, who’s primed to make his second straight All-Star Game start, acknowledged the Derby is “something I definitely want to do later in my career” and said, “I don’t think it would mess up my swing or anything.” But the Derby requires a lot of max-effort swings, which tends to wear guys out and is the main reason Mike Scioscia would prefer that his players not participate.
“Not only that,” Trout said. “All-Star break is time to relax, come take BP and enjoy the Derby. I enjoy watching it.”
Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista was named the American League captain for the Derby, which will take place July 14 in Minnesota. Bautista must pick four American League teammates — Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will do the same for the National League — and the tournament will have a new, bracket-style format that may lessen the amount of swings necessary.
Five players from each league will bat in the opening round, with seven outs instead of the usual 10. The player who hits the most homers in each league will automatically receive a bye to the third round (semifinals).
The next two players with the most homers from each league will square off against one another in a head-to-head matchup in the second round. The winners of those matchups will then advance to the third round to compete against the league’s top seed. The final round will feature the winners of the AL and NL semifinals going head-to-head to decide a winner.
Scioscia hasn’t necessarily talked to Trout about the Derby this year. The Angels’ manager reiterated Monday that participating in the event is the players’ decision, but continues to hold firm on his stance against it — not because of how it can affect his players’ swing, but because of how the heavy workload can affect their bodies.
“As a fan, you’re interested in it, it’s a fun part of the All-Star experience,” Scioscia said. “But I know the grind it takes to go through that, and it’s affected more players’ second halves than helped players.”
The Angels took a step – and it’s probably only the first step – in trying to shore up the back end of their bullpen on Friday, sending struggling closer Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates for struggling closer Jason Grilli in what general manager Jerry Dipoto called “a classic change of scenery that I think will be good for all parties.”
Grilli, 37, posted a 2.74 ERA and saved 36 games for the Pirates from 2011-13, but has hit a rough patch this year, posting a 4.87 ERA, a 1.62 WHIP and a 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio while saving 11 games in 15 opportunities.
Frieri, 28, had a 3.07 ERA and 60 saves from 2012-13, but has struggled through a 6.39 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and a 4.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014, which has seen him blow three of his 14 save chances.
Frieri is owed $3.8 million in 2014 and was arbitration-eligible for two more seasons, while Grilli is owed $4 million and is a free agent at the end of the year.
“At the end of the day, sometimes these types of address changes are just good for everybody,” Dipoto said in a phone interview. “Obviously, over the last couple weeks, it’s been a mighty struggle for Ernie. And he just needed a chance to clear himself out. This is probably best in that regard.
“We’re encouraged to get the opportunity to work with Jason Grilli, and see if we can’t get him back to where he needs to be. He still has the velocity, he still has the slider, he still has the ability to be the dominant ninth-inning presence that he was a year ago.”
But will he be the closer, like he was during that All-Star season in 2013?
“We’ll sort that through as he gets in,” Dipoto said of Grilli, who’s expected to join the Angels in time for Saturday’s game against the Royals.
“We’ll see where he fits in,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia added. “He’s pitched in the back end of games and has done a very good job in that role. We’re going to get his feet on the ground here, and then we’ll see where he fits.”
The Angels head into a weekend series at Kauffman Stadium on a six-game winning streak that has put them a season-best 11 games over .500. But they’ve suffered through 12 blown saves, tied with the Astros for the American League lead, and entered Friday ranked 26th in the Majors in ERA (4.46) and tied for 23rd in WHIP (1.38) from their bullpen.
Dipoto would still like to add a situational left-hander and perhaps another option for the ninth inning, which would free Scioscia up to use current closer Joe Smith in a more versatile role.
“We’re still open to improving and adding to our team in any way that will help us win,” Dipoto said. “We understand that the bullpen is something that needs to be addressed. I think this is a step in trying to address some of our needs down there, but I’d be surprised if it’s the only step.”
Grilli – a product of Tommy John surgery in 2002 – was originally taken with the fourth overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft but didn’t come into his own until spending the entire 2010 season recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle, when he joined the Pirates as a 35-year-old who had already spent time in five different organizations.
Grilli broke out in 2013, posting a 2.70 ERA and 33 saves while converting each of his first 25 opportunities.
His fastball velocity is basically the same this year – in the 92- to 93-mph range – but he missed 27 games because of an oblique strain earlier this season and has yet to see consistent results.
“He’s ready for a new challenge,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “Jason has responded very well to a number of challenges in his life. He had a good run here, loves the city and the team, but he’s ready for a new challenge.”
The Angels believe the same can be said for Frieri, the affable right-hander who shined upon being acquired from the Padres in May 2012 but has been demoted twice from his role as closer this season.
“Ernie’s a tremendous young man,” Scioscia said. “He became part of our family. It’s tough to let go of a piece like that. Hopefully in the long run it’ll be better for Ernie to go there and get a fresh start.”
Grant Green made his first start Major League start at third base on Wednesday, but no, he hasn’t supplanted David Freese as the everyday guy at the hot corner, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Green won’t necessarily be cutting into his playing time, either.
Green is starting simply because Freese’s left elbow is “a little sore” after a hit by pitch in Tuesday’s eighth inning, Scioscia said, adding that Freese will “still get the lion’s share of the third-base starts.”
“He’s hit the ball much better than some of his numbers show,” Scioscia said. “He’s hit a lot of hard outs. Really what David does is give you that great at-bat with guys in scoring position. We’re starting to see a little bit more of that. That being said, I don’t think he’s hit stride, or there’s a comfort level of what he did a couple years ago. That just hasn’t materialized. But he’s giving us good at-bats, and if he can get close to where we project him to be, he’s going to be a huge boost to the depth of our lineup.”
So far, that hasn’t happened.
Freese sports a .226/.305/.282 slash line overall and a .170/.270/.170 mark with runners in scoring position, and he’s basically been treading water recently, with a .256 average, 14 strikeouts and one walk in his last 11 games.
Green, meanwhile, enters hitting .333/.347/.435 in an interrupted 25-game stint in the big leagues, but is still getting acclimated to third base — one of five positions he currently plays.
The 26-year-old — a natural shortstop who’s most comfortable at second base, received the majority of his starts in left field earlier this season and has most recently been experimenting with first base — hadn’t spent much time at third base when the Angels acquired him from the A’s for Alberto Callaspo last July. But Green got some time there in the Minors down the stretch last year, spent a lot of time in the hot corner during Spring Training and played third in four of his last six Triple-A games.
“I felt good there when I first came up,” Green said. “When I first came up, I played a lot of third. When I went back down, I didn’t feel rusty. It was just getting back into it, getting back into taking grounders game-speed.”
Danny Santana, SS
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Josh Willingham, LF
Kendrys Morales, DH
Oswaldo Arcia, RF
Eduardo Escobar, 3B
Eric Fryer, C
Sam Fuld, CF
SP: RH Yohan Pino (0-0, 2.57 ERA)
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
C.J. Cron, DH
Grant Green, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
SP: RH Garrett Richards (7-2, 2.79 ERA)
Mike Scioscia knows who his starters will be on Saturday and Sunday, but won’t announce them until Friday, probably because a corresponding roster move is involved. One of the games will be started by Jered Weaver, and for the other it’ll either be Hector Santiago or Matt Shoemaker. And with that, the Angels’ manager will have essentially made the much-wondered-about rotation decision, which was made difficult by how effective Shoemaker and Santiago have been lately.
Santiago has one thing pointing in his favor: Soon, the Angels have to basically figure out whether or not he’s going to start for them down the stretch.
The non-waiver Trade Deadline is exactly six weeks away, and the Angels have two potential needs: Lefty reliever and starting pitcher. Santiago has a chance to fill either of those roles, but obviously not both. And the decision to keep him in the rotation could rest partly on the fact that they need to figure out whether or not trading for a starting pitcher is necessary.
The Angels have the flexibility to absorb payroll – remember, the money they offered to Matt Garza this offseason essentially went unused — but getting a front-of-the-rotation starter would mean parting ways with top prospects from a farm system that needs to grow. Acquiring a lefty reliever probably would not.
The Angels have been heavily linked to Rays ace David Price, most recently by ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden, who believes C.J. Cron and Alex Yarbrough could be enough to get a deal done. FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal linked them to Ian Kennedy of the Padres and Dillon Gee of the Mets. I’ve heard they like Kennedy, Travis Wood of the Cubs and J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays (albeit a contender), among others. The Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija is a sexy name who could be shopped since he turned down a reported extension offer, but he — like Price and the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, who’s currently rehabbing from an elbow strain — will cost some top-shelf prospects.
But before they go in that direction, the Angels need to find out if Santiago’s last two starts were a fluke or a sign that he’s actually rounding into the form they expected when they traded for him.
Now, is five weeks enough to draw a conclusion?