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Pujols’ wrist, Richards’ return, Cron’s future, garden gnomes …

Albert Pujols returned to the Angels’ lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox from Fenway Park, two days after a fastball caught him on the left hand/wrist.

Pujols initially thought for sure that he was headed for the disabled list, but a CT scan revealed only a bruise and the swelling on the bottom of his left hand went down significantly. The Angels’ 35-year-old first baseman is going to have to hit through a little bit of pain, but believes it’s manageable.

“Albert is as tough as they come,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He wants to play. He’ll go out there when he’s at 60 percent. He’ll go out there and compete and usually get it done. He just wants to play.”

Here’s the Angels’ lineup …

Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, CF
Pujols, 1B
Kole Calhoun, RF
David Freese, 3B
Matt Joyce, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Marc Krauss, DH
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Garrett Richards (3-2, 2.29 ERA)

Richards dismissed the thought of there being any added emotion upon returning to Fenway, the place where he suffered the gruesome knee injury that ended his season and sent him on a long rehab on Aug. 20. Scisocia place much significance on it, either.

“It wasn’t Fenway Park that hurt his leg,” Scioscia said. “It was just a baseball field. I think he’ll be fine.”

Some additional notes …

  • C.J. Cron scorched through Spring Training, but he has a .200/.222/.274 slash line and isn’t starting against right-handers. He’s still 25 and developing as a hitter. Is it best for him to go to the Minor Leagues to work some things out at the plate and get some regular playing time? “You don’t have to get [at-bats] seven days [a week], but if you are getting them one day a week, then there’s a discussion of what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player. C.J. has gotten enough at-bats where if he’s swinging like he can, he’d be contributing. But he hasn’t found that swing yet.”
  • A more positive memory from Fenway Park was Calhoun’s brilliant catch over the right-field fence. “That was incredible. You know, most guys would’ve probably caught that neck-high,” Scioscia quipped. Calhoun is listed at 5-foot-10 and Collin Cowgill, who typically comes in as a defensive replacement in left field, is listed at 5-foot-9. “When him and Cowgill are out there, they’re two LA Angels garden gnomes. That’s what I tell Trout — make sure you don’t step on them.”
  • The Red Sox called up Rusney Castillo and optioned Jackie Bradley Jr.

Alden

Pujols breathes a huge sigh of relief …

Albert Pujols thought for sure he was headed to the disabled list when he arrived at a local hospital late Wednesday night and saw the inside of his left hand swell up like a balloon, a result of the mid-90s fastball he absorbed a few minutes earlier.

But a CT scan ruled out a fracture, revealing only a bruise, and Pujols breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“My hand swelled up twice as much yesterday,” Pujols said. “I couldn’t feel my fingers. That’s the whole reason I came out of the game. I couldn’t grip the bat.”

About half the swelling had subsided by Thursday afternoon, but Pujols had a hard time gripping the bat, so Angels manager Mike Scioscia kept him out of the lineup for the finale of a four-game series at Rogers Centre. He hopes to return on Friday, when the Angels open up a weekend series at Fenway Park.

“I could’ve gone out there and played today,” Pujols said, “but one day won’t hurt it. If I feel good in less than 24 hours, I’ll play tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll feel, not 100 percent, but good enough to play where I can swing the bat.”

Pujols is off to a slow start, batting .231 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in his first 38 games. But the Angels’ struggling offense – 29th in the Majors in runs per game, 30th in OPS – can ill-afford to lose anyone for an extended period of time right now, especially not its No. 3 hitter.

Pujols got plunked by Drew Hutchison in the fourth inning and immediately figured he’d be coming out of the game. The 35-year-old first baseman ran the bases – and let out his anger on a late slide into second base – then stayed in for defense in the bottom half and couldn’t properly squeeze the glove while catching a throw on a double-play ball.

So Marc Krauss replaced Pujols as a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, then won the game with a two-run double two innings later.

Pujols is thankful the hit by pitch didn’t affect the area where he suffered a fractured left wrist in June 2011, an injury that kept him out a couple of weeks but occurred along the upper part of his forearm.

“My strength is there, but because it’s so swollen, I can’t grip the bottom part of my bat,” said Pujols, who had his left hand heavily wrapped. “You can be sore in your hamstring or your leg, but if it’s your hand and you can’t swing the bat, it’s hard. I don’t want to put myself in that situation. If it was Game 7 of the World Series, yeah, but we still have a long season.”

Alden

X-rays negative on Pujols’ left wrist …

X-rays were negative on Albert Pujols’ left wrist, which was hit by a Drew Hutchison fastball that forced him to leave the game.

“He’s OK,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a text message late Wednesday night. “Day-to-day with a bruised hand.”

Pujols was noticeably in a lot of pain after getting plunked in the top of the fourth, but he stayed in the game, ran the bases and played the next half-inning on defense. In the top of the fifth, though, Marc Krauss pinch-hit for him – then drove in the game-winning run with a two-run double two innings later.

Pujols left Rogers Centre early to undergo further examination.

“It didn’t sound good,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said after an eventual 4-3 win. “I was on first base and at first I thought it hit the knob. But after the replay, I heard everybody saying it hit the wrist. I just hope everything’s all right. He’s a big guy in our lineup.”

Pujols entered Wednesday’s game batting .232 with seven homers and 15 RBIs, but was nonetheless a crucial piece to an offense that had been limited to three runs or less in 22 of the previous 39 games.

The 35-year-old first baseman fractured his left wrist while with the Cardinals in June 2011, banging it against a runner while trying to field a one-hop throw up the first-base line. The injury forced him to miss two weeks, far less than what was initially expected.

“I don’t know if there’s anything residual from when he fractured it in St. Louis,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who wasn’t aware of the severity of Pujols’ latest injury immediately after the game.

“We’re naturally concerned. Just the area it was and some swelling in there. We hope it’s just a bruise and we’ll see how it lines up.”

Alden

Calhoun back to cleanup, seemingly long-term …

For a little more than a year, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has enjoyed the luxury of receiving uncommon power from a traditionally powerless spot in his batting order. His lineup was deep enough, productive enough to keep Kole Calhoun in the leadoff spot, while leading the Majors in runs and receiving power from almost every position.

But those days are seemingly over.

The Angels’ current offense – 29th in the Majors in runs per game and 30th in OPS through the first six weeks of 2015 – can no longer sustain keeping Calhoun’s power left-handed bat at the top. Scioscia moved him back into the cleanup spot on Monday, prior to the opener of a four-game series against the Blue Jays, and this time it seems like a long-term move.

“We’re going to ride this out,” said Scioscia.

Calhoun at cleanup moved Erick Aybar into the leadoff spot, a lineup configuration Scioscia used for what he hoped was a short-term fix from April 30 to May 4. Aybar doesn’t walk a lot – he ranked 184th among qualified players in plate appearances per walk from 2009-14 – but Scioscia believes he can succeed batting in front of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, which would seemingly lead to getting more pitches to hit.

“What Erick doesn’t bring in patience, working counts, he brings in just athleticism and still gets on base at a rate which hopefully will set the table for Mike and Albert moving forward,” Scioscia said. “And also, we have Johnny Giavotella pushed back to ninth, to try to connect him with Mike. Hopefully there will be some table-setting there that’s happening, and we’ll get to the big guys in our lineup. “

The Angels have already been shut out three times, equaling their total from all of last season, and had scored three runs or less in 21 of their previous 37 games. The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce continues to struggle, with a .143/.180/.219 slash line through his first 32 games, and the Angels’ lineup has several right-handed hitters who have historically struggled against right-handed pitching.

That’s why they need Calhoun in the middle of the order, to protect Pujols and maximize his opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Calhoun entered the series at Rogers Centre with a .327 batting average, three homers and 17 RBIs in his last 29 games. Last year, his .801 OPS from the leadoff spot was significantly higher than the Major League average of .715. It was an advantage that set the Angels’ lineup apart. So Scioscia tried for as long as he could to keep Calhoun at that leadoff spot, going so far as to bat Aybar cleanup on Saturday and Sunday.

But it’s a luxury the Angels can no longer afford.

“As much as we really like Kole in the leadoff spot, and in front of Mike, I think what we’re presented with right now just makes the most sense to go with it this way,” Scioscia said. “Guys have had a lot of time to get into their game and aren’t there yet, so we need to start to take a little pressure off our pitching staff.”

Alden

Angels, Street agree on extension …

The allure of free agency never really tugged at Huston Street, even though he was less than six months away from hitting the open market as one of the game’s steadiest, most successful closers over the last decade.

“The point of free agency,” Street said, “is to end up where you want to be.”

And Street never wanted to be anywhere else.

He proved it Wednesday afternoon, after finalizing a two-year, $18 million extension that will keep him pitching the ninth inning for the Angels at least through the 2017 season. The deal will pay Street $8 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017, and it includes a $10 million club option for the 2018 season, with a $1 million buyout.

Street will still make the $7 million he’s owed this season – on the last of a three-year, $21 million extension he signed with the Padres in July 2012 – and will make a total of $34 million in his four full seasons with the Angels if his option is picked up.

It falls a little short of the extension Street eyed at the start of Spring Training, at four years and somewhere between $36 million and $46 million – but it was enough.

“You can’t let your ego get involved,” Street said from the podium at Angel Stadium. “You have to make decisions based on reality and what you really want. I put a lot of value on a lot of other things. First and foremost is happiness of family. Second, my loyalty to winning. I told my teammates in there, ‘If I didn’t think you guys were worth a hill of beans, I wouldn’t have signed this contract.’”

Talks between Street and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto began in November and never really stopped.

“There was always steady progress, throughout the whole time,” Street said.

“We spent many, many days and hours talking about this,” Dipoto said, “dating back to being in the middle of my vacation walking around in the beaches of Hawaii talking to Huston on a cell phone.”

It all turned early in Spring Training, when Dipoto and Street finally met face-to-face.

Street suggested Sushi Roku, a swanky, high-priced Japanese restaurant in West Scottsdale, and Dipoto obliged. They shared a bottle of wine, ran through an inordinate amount of sushi and spent the better part of four hours talking – about the Angels, about a potential extension, about the game, about life.

The bill was $600, and Dipoto insisted on paying.

“I came back into the office the next day and threw the receipt on the table,” Dipoto said. “It was pure fascination.”

And it was ultimately worth it.

Street has been as steady as they come throughout his 11-year career, posting a 2.83 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, saving 286 games – tied with Rod Beck for 29th on the all-time list – and cracking two All-Star teams. Over the last five years, his 91.9-percent conversion rate leads the Majors.

“The thing that appeals to me about Huston is you have a three-pitch closer who understands how to carve the strike zone and isn’t ultra-reliant on any one thing,” Dipoto said. “He isn’t ultra-reliant on velocity, he isn’t ultra-reliant on one pitch being any more dominant than the other, he isn’t ultra-reliant on facing righties or lefties. He’s been very consistent in what he does, and he really brings a sense of calm to you.”

The Angels acquired Street from the Padres in a six-player deal last July, parting with four intriguing prospects – Taylor Lindsey, Elliot Morris, Jose Rondon, R.J. Alvarez – because they felt Street could change the makeup of their entire roster.

Then they watched it happen.

Street’s presence moved the reliable Joe Smith to the eighth inning and Kevin Jepsen to the seventh, giving the Angels a lethal back end of the bullpen for the first time in a long time. Jepsen is gone, but Smith is signed through the 2016 season, locking down the final six outs of a game.

“As a manager, your IQ is tied to your bullpen,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “A guy like Huston has a history of making his manager look smart.”

Street began contract negotiations as a self-represented player, then rehired his former agent, Alan Hendricks, to tackle the bulk of the negotiations when the regular season began, so Street could focus on his job on the field.

About a week ago, Street and his wife – six months pregnant with the couple’s third boy – decided to accept the dollars and years the Angels had been offering. The couple has grown fond of the house they rent in Sunset Beach, and as a closer, Street believes it’s necessary to be on a team that is committed to winning long term.

Free agency can wait.

“You want to be where you want to be,” Street said. “In free agency, the only thing you’re really going for is money, and you have to follow where the money is. That’s just not a position I want to be in. Winning is the thing that drove my position, first and foremost, from a professional standpoint. From a personal standpoint, I’m staring at the ocean when I wake up in the morning, with my wife and my kids. I’m very, very lucky to be where I am.”

Alden

Krauss up, Mattheus DFA’d …

The Angels designated veteran reliever Ryan Mattheus for assignment on Tuesday, calling up left-handed power hitter Marc Krauss and returning to the traditional four-man bench.

Krauss, 27, was selected off waivers from the Astros in December and lost the competition for the final bench spot to Efren Navarro in Spring Training. Krauss, who has experience at first base and both corner-outfield spots, was carrying a 10-game hitting streak for Triple-A Salt Lake that lifted his slash line to .281/.405/.458.

Krauss was called up partly because Navarro was sent down four days earlier, and he has to spend at least 10 days in the Minors unless he’s replacing a player going on the disabled list. But Krauss, with a .478 slugging percentage in his Minor League career, can provide some much-needed left-handed power to the Angels’ struggling offense.

Mattheus was called up on Friday to provide an extra arm for the bullpen, but can’t be sent back to Triple-A unless he clears waivers. The Angels didn’t initially call up Cam Bedrosian, who does have options, because he had just pitched two innings the night before.

Alden

Navarro down, Mattheus up …

The Angels optioned first baseman/outfielder Efren Navarro to Triple-A Salt Lake prior to Friday’s game, selecting the contract of veteran reliever Ryan Mattheus to put them at 13 pitchers and 12 position players.

The Angels needed the extra bullpen arm because setup man Joe Smith has pitched in three straight games and closer Huston Street has appeared in two in a row, which probably makes them unavailable for the second of a four-game series against the Astros.

Mattheus was signed to a Minor League contract in the offseason and is out of options, which means he’ll have to slip through waivers in order to be sent back to Triple-A.

The 31-year-old right-hander appeared in 145 games for the Nationals from 2011-14, posting a 3.60 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and a 1.49 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the Salt Lake Bees this year, he had a 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, issuing two walks and striking out 12 batters. The Angels’ 40-man roster is now at 39.

— Alden

Perez earns another start; Joyce continues to sit …

Not surprisingly, Carlos Perez was back in the starting lineup on Wednesday, one day after capping his Major League debut with a walk-off home run. Angels manager Mike Scioscia isn’t declaring him the everyday catcher, though. He said once again that Chris Iannetta — batting .094 — will continue to get playing time.

But it’s hard to have a platoon with two right-handed-hitting catchers.

So basically, Scioscia will ride the hot bat. And though it’s only been one game for Perez, his bat is nonetheless hotter than Iannetta’s has been all year.

“The best way I can say it is if you play well you always earn more playing time, both ways,” Scioscia said. “If both those guys are playing well, it makes us better.”

Wednesday’s lineup also excluded the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce, who sat for a second straight day because the Angels faced a second straight lefty. Joyce was seemingly starting to turn the corner, hitting several balls hard in a weekend series in San Francisco and homering against Felix Hernandez on Monday.

“I talked to Matt,” Scioscia said. “Just because a lefty’s pitching doesn’t mean he’s not going to play. But right now, you’re trying to jump-start an offense with every little bit of offense you can, against lefties especially. … We just haven’t seen Matt get into his game yet. And when he does, you’re not going to want to sit him just because there’s a lefty in there. But right now, we’re just trying to get as much depth to our lineup as we can.”

Albert Pujols, who exited last Wednesday’s game with a tight left hamstring, made his fourth start of the year at designated hitter. Scioscia said it was precautionary.

Alden

Pujols’ hamstring ‘no worse,’ but not much better …

Albert Pujols’ tight left hamstring was “no worse” on Thursday morning, which Angels manager Mike Scioscia considered a good sign. But there’s still no telling how long the veteran first baseman will be out.

Pujols only got treatment Thursday, hours after his hamstring grabbed on him while jogging down the first-base line on a sixth-inning single on Wednesday night. The Angels transition to a National League park in San Francisco for the weekend set, eliminating the designated hitter and potentially ruling Pujols out until Monday, at the earliest.

“It’s obviously sore,” Scioscia said of Pujols’ hamstring. “We’re going to take it day-by-day for now.”

Pujols’ absence had a pretty sizeable impact on Scioscia’s lineup, which was struggling to score runs even while he was in there. Mike Trout settled into the No. 3 spot, Erick Aybar moved from fifth to first, Johnny Giavotella went from ninth to second and Kole Calhoun – 13-for-32 in his last eight games heading into Thursday’s series finale – moved from leadoff to cleanup.

“Out of all the guys you’d want to hit behind Mike, right now it’s Kole,” Scioscia said. “… It’s a deviation from what we really want to do in our lineup, but I think the circumstances are very clear. Right now, there’s a lot of guys trying to find their game. And with Albert out of the lineup, we have to make some adjustments.”

Also …

Fernando Salas was initially credited with the win on Wednesday, but the official scorer and Elias Sports Bureau decided Thursday morning to instead give the win to Mike Morin, who retired the final batter in the bottom of the sixth before the Angels took a three-run lead in the top of the seventh. Salas kept the A’s scoreless in the bottom of the seventh of the Angels’ eventual 6-3 victory.

Alden

Pujols exits with hamstring injury …

Albert Pujols’ left hamstring grabbed on him after a sixth-inning single on Wednesday night, prompting the first baseman to exit early in the Angels’ eventual 6-3 win over the A’s.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t anticipate the hamstring injury to send Pujols to the disabled list, but said, “There’s some soreness in there, definitely.” Pujols isn’t expected to start Thursday’s day game and there’s a decent chance he won’t play the rest of this week, with the following three games coming in a National League venue – AT&T Park in San Francisco – that eliminates the designated hitter.

“It feels more like a cramp, but it’s really sore right now,” Pujols said after the game. “We’ll see tomorrow.”

Pujols screamed in pain while jogging halfway down the first-base line after a bloop single off Dan Otero and was immediately checked on by the Angels’ training staff. The 35-year-old felt a little better after loosening his left leg, but Grant Green took over as a pinch-runner nonetheless.

Initial tests checked out fine and Pujols probably won’t require an MRI – but he will need to sit out a little while.

“It’s weird,” said Pujols, batting .208 through the Angels’ first 21 games. “I don’t have that much history on the hamstring.”

For the Angels, it’s coming at a tough time.

Their offense has been slow out of the gate, Wednesday’s three-run seventh inning notwithstanding. They scored three runs or less in 12 of their first 20 games and entered Wednesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs and 25th in OPS.

With Pujols out, Mike Trout is expected to slide into the No. 3 spot and Erick Aybar could bat second, behind leadoff man Kole Calhoun.

“It’s tough losing Albert, one of our big guys,” Trout said. “Hopefully it’s just a cramp.”

Alden

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