Author Archive

Trout has yet to figure out Scherzer …

Max ScherzerMike Trout has now faced Max Scherzer on 16 occasions, and he’s struck out 10 times.

The only pitchers who have struck out Trout more often are Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and Rangers ace Yu Darvish. Both have fanned him 11 times. But both are division rivals who face him a lot more frequently (Trout has 40 career plate appearances against Darvish and 52 against Hernandez), and Trout has actually hit them well (1.063 OPS against Hernandez, 1.076 OPS against Darvish).

After Thursday’s 4-2 loss against the Tigers, Trout is now 3-for-16 in his career against Scherzer (albeit with a home run). Among the 16 other pitchers who have faced him more than 15 times, only six (Joe Saunders, A.J. Griffin, Matt Harrison, Dallas Keuchel, Tommy Milone and Hisashi Iwakuma) have held the Angels’ phenom to a batting average below .290. And none have come anywhere close to striking him out as frequently as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

The biggest reason, perhaps: Scherzer is as good as anyone at changing the eye level of hitters, and is particularly dominant in the upper half of the strike zone. Trout’s weakness comes in the upper half of the zone. And though Scherzer hasn’t necessarily attached Trout chest-high, the threat is always there, and it’s hard to hit his fastball-changeup combination when you can’t sit on a particular zone.

Scherzer’s response, when asked about his approach against Trout …

“Attack him. You have to go after him. I absolutely respect everything he does on a baseball field and what he does at the plate. But when you face really good hitters, the elite hitters, like that, you have to be even more aggressive with them. You have to go right after them and make your pitches. He’s hit a home run, he’s had success off me, but when I have success against him is when I take the aggressive approach with him.”

Alden

To catch A’s, Angels must overcome schedule …

Albert Pujols, Mike TroutThe Angels and A’s are each playing their 100th game tonight, and when the day began, Oakland’s lead in the American League West remained at two. The Angels have been one of baseball’s best teams for most of the season, currently sporting the second-best record in the Majors, but they have the misfortune of playing in a division with the best team. And of playing in an era when winning your division is crucial (nobody wants their season to be decided by a singular Wild Card game, especially if that game comes against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez).

So it goes without saying that the Angels’ goal is to catch the A’s, who only got stronger by adding Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to their rotation. To do that, they’ll have to continue to make up ground.

And they’ll have to overcome a far less favorable schedule.

Below is a categorical look at the remaining games for each team, starting Thursday. The first line is the amount of games each has against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, the second is the amount of games against teams with records above .500, the third is the amount of home games left, and the fourth is the combined number of games above/below .500 from each of their remaining 62 opponents.*

The Angels and A’s play each other 10 more times — Aug. 22-24 in Oakland, Aug. 28-31 in Anaheim and Sept. 22-24 in Oakland, making up the second-to-last series of the regular season. The A’s lead the season series, 6-3.

Athletics

Playoffs: 19
Above-.500: 19
Home: 30
Combined: 246 games below .500

Angels

Playoffs: 28
Above-500: 29
Home: 28
Combined: 2 games below .500

* a few teams hadn’t finished their Wednesday games by the time I tallied this

Alden

Green on DL with back strain; Cron back up …

Angels utility man Grant Green was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday because of what was initially diagnosed as a strain in his lumbar, a region that makes up his lower back.

First baseman C.J. Cron – basically the everyday designated hitter until he was sent down on Saturday – was called back up from Triple-A as the corresponding move, and Green spent the afternoon visiting team doctors to get a sense for how long he’ll be out.

Green hit the game-winning single on Sunday, then was unavailable the last couple of games. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Green tweaked his back while working out in the weight room; not amid the walk-off celebration.

“It seemed like today it was going in the wrong direction,” Scioscia said, “so we’re going to shut him down for a little bit.”

The Angels will continue to rotate at left field, first base and DH, with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols getting starts at DH as needed, and the left-handed-hitting Efren Navarro and the right-handed-hitting Cron filling in. The Angels currently have a short bench due to an eight-man bullpen, which is expected to continue until Monday’s off day.

Cron, a 24-year-old rookie, batted .295 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in his first 47 games, a big reason why the 42-year-old Raul Ibanez was released. But he went 3-for-26 with seven strikeouts and no walks in his next six contests before getting optioned back to the Minors. Scioscia called it “the cyclical nature of hitting.”

“C.J. can hit,” Scioscia said. “He’s always hit. It’s just that there’s going to be some periods when you don’t get those balls to fall in, and I think more than anything that’s what you were seeing with C.J.

“The original plan with C.J. was really just to let him exhale. He was really pressing up here a little bit before he got sent down, and hopefully he’s been able to exhale a little bit and be ready to contribute.”

Cron was expected to land about 90 minutes prior to game time, so he’ll be available off the bench.

Lineup …

Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Josh Hamilton, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
David Freese, 3B
Navarro, 1B
Chris Iannetta, C

SP: RH Jered Weaver (10-6, 3.43 ERA)

Alden

Josh Hamilton at DH again …

Josh HamiltonJosh 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
Trout, CF
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)

Alden

Erick Aybar not in lineup, but ready to go …

Erick AybarErick 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.

Lineup …

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)

Alden

Do the Angels need to answer the A’s? …

Arte Moreno, Jerry Dipoto, Mike SciosciaAngels 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.

Alden

Josh Hamilton has his home-run swing back …

Josh Hamilton, Kyle GibsonJosh Hamilton went 23 consecutive games without hitting a home run, a stretch in which he posted a .266/.324/.330 slash line.

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.”

Alden

How many All-Stars are on the Angels? …

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.

Alden

Angels acquire Hill, send down Kohn …

Rich HillThe 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.

Alden

Trout still has ‘mixed feelings’ on HR Derby …

Mike TroutMike Trout still hasn’t been asked, and he still doesn’t know if he would.

“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.”

Alden

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