Results tagged ‘ Erick Aybar ’

Trout moves into No. 3 spot, Pujols now at cleanup …

Desperate for continuity from his offense and looking to maximize opportunities for his two best hitters, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a significant, highly anticipated change to his lineup Tuesday, batting Mike Trout in the prominent No. 3 spot and making Albert Pujols his new cleanup hitter.

Scioscia hopes “this is a lineup we can ride out for a long time.”

In his mind, it became a necessity.

“We’ve got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes,” is how Scioscia described it. “Which ones do you want to fill? Right now we want to go solid one through five and look at it that way.”

Translation: The Angels’ offense hasn’t proven to be very deep this year, so Scioscia would prefer to bunch all of his best hitters up top.

That involved keeping Erick Aybar at leadoff and moving Kole Calhoun to the No. 2 spot to bat him directly in front of Trout and Pujols, as was the case when Calhoun batted leadoff all of last season.

The Angels entered Tuesday ranked 22nd in the Majors in runs per game, while Trout and Pujols were tied with Nelson Cruz for the American League lead in homers with 18 apiece.

Pujols had started in the cleanup spot just five times since 2003 and not once since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. Trout batted leadoff as a rookie in 2012, moved into the No. 2 spot a couple weeks into the 2013 season and batted third only on days when Pujols wasn’t in the lineup, which was especially the case when Pujols missed the last two months of 2013 because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.

Trout has a .323/.473/.511 slash line in 245 career plate appearances as a No. 3 hitter.

“I’m not going to change my approach,” said Trout, who entered Tuesday batting .297/.381/.577 for the season. “You can’t change your approach. That’s when you get in trouble.”

Since 1914, Pujols – riding a hot stretch that has his slash line up to .272/.323/.540 – ranks eighth in starts in the No. 3 spot with 1,851. The 35-year-old first baseman didn’t want to talk about the subject when approached by the media on Tuesday afternoon, but indications are that he really likes the move.

There’s a delicate balance here, a tradeoff between potentially giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities with runners in scoring position while ensuring that they will come up to bat less frequently over the course of the season.

“That was weighed very heavily,” Scioscia said. “But the bottom line is everybody in the room when we were talking about it was unanimous about the need to try to readjust some things.”

There was a 16-plate-appearance gap between the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the AL last year, which would add up to about 10 fewer plate appearances for both Trout and Pujols this season. Scioscia hopes Aybar and Calhoun can help make up for that by giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities to drive in runs.

Aybar’s slash line is down to .255/.301/.301 after a recent 0-for-19 slump, while Calhoun – the cleanup hitter for the better part of the last month – entered Tuesday batting .273/.328/.398.

“Right now we all feel that we need to try something that’s going to get a little more action, especially early in games,” Scioscia said. “It’s not just the first inning. But if we get a little action and move the lineup, these guys are coming back up in the third inning and in the fifth inning, the same group. If you just do a statistical analysis of it, the chances of these guys hitting with a couple of guys on base is very real within the first five or six innings, either Mike or Albert, if this works out. We’ll see.”

Alden

The Angels’ uncertain, costly future …

dipotoThe Draft starts today, and after going heavy-handed on pitching the last two years, the Angels are expected to target position players this time around. They — like any other team — want to set themselves up so that every time there’s a need on the Major League club, there’s a player in their farm system ready to take over. It’s too risky, not to mention expensive, to rely on the free-agent market to fill holes. Look no further than that brutal offseason heading into 2013, which saw the Angels sign Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Ouch.

The Cardinals are the gold standard when it comes to organizational depth, as evidenced by a Major League-leading plus-70 run-differential without Adam Wanwright or Matt Adams.

The Angels? Well, they’re working on it.

Their farm system was in need of a major replenishment right around the time Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2011 season, but major free-agent signings stripped the Angels of early-round picks and new CBA regulations limited how much teams can spend on amateur talent. It’s been a slow process. But over time, the Angels have at least done a good job of building some respectable starting-pitching depth. Some notables …

Triple-A: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano
Double-A: Nate Smith, Kyle McGowin
Class A Advanced: Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Victor Alcantara
Class A: Jeremy Rhoades, Jake Jewell
Lower levels: Joe Gatto, Hunter Green

That brings us to the upcoming offseason, and why that starting-pitching depth could be so important. The Angels — losers of five straight games — could have up to five holes in their lineup once this season ends: catcher, second base, third base, left field, designated hitter. In the majority of those spots — perhaps all of them, if you’re being really cynical — the Angels don’t have players in their organization ready to come up and take over. And their big financial flexibility won’t come after the 2016 season, when C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar, among others, come off the books.

Dipoto, with a contract that carries a lingering club option for 2016, knows he’ll eventually have to part ways with some of the precious starting-pitching depth he’s worked so hard to compile. He may have to trade some of it within these next two months, with his club in desperate need of some offense. And he’s almost certain to do so over the winter, given all their upcoming needs.

Here’s a snapshot …

CATCHER

Current option: Chris Iannetta, in the final season of a three-year, $15.55 million extension
In-house replacement(s): Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
Free-agent options: Iannetta, Alex Avila, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro, Jeff Mathis (!), Matt Wieters
Probable outcome: The rest of this season could play a big part in deciding how the Angels handle this position. They need to find out if Perez, basically a throw-in in the deal that sent Hank Conger to the Astros for Tropeano, is capable of being a semi-regular. Bandy has made some pretty big strides in the last year and is solid defensively, and that free-agent list is pretty compelling. But I’d guess that if the Angels splurge on a free agent, it’s an outfielder, not a catcher.

THIRD BASE

Current option: David Freese, making $6.425 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kyle Kubitza
Free-agent options: Freese, Aramis Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee, Alberto Callaspo (!)
Probable outcome: The hope – the initial plan – is that Kubitza is ready to be the everyday third baseman in 2016. The likely scenario is that Kubitza is paired with a right-handed-hitting veteran who doesn’t mind sharing the job and can help Kubitza make the transition to the big leagues. I think it’s unlikely that they make a run at resigning Freese, especially since he’ll probably make good money given the lack of talent in the free-agent pool at third base.

SECOND BASE

Current option: Johnny Giavotella, controllable through 2019
In-house replacement(s): Giavotella, Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, Taylor Featherston, Alex Yarbrough
Free-agent options: Howie Kendrick (!), Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy
Probable outcome: Giavotella has been a revelation of sorts and is out of options. None of the other in-house options are all that appealing, as Spring Training might have shown, but the free-agent market isn’t deep here, either. The Angels don’t really do reunions, but Kendrick was huge for their lineup these last few years and he loves playing in Southern California. This is a position where they may ultimately have to get creative again.

LEFT FIELD

Current option: Matt Joyce, making $4.75 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Efren Navarro, Alfredo Marte
Free-agent options: Joyce, Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter (!), David Murphy, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Shane Victorino
Probable outcome: As you can see, this is a major, major problem. Outfield is by far the Angels’ biggest organizationally need and they’ll most certainly have to get somebody from the outside. That may happen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, though. Dipoto has been looking for a left-handed-hitting left fielder for quite a while, and for obvious reasons, he’d like to get someone who’s controllable beyond this season. Upton would be a very appealing option, though.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Current option: C.J. Cron, controllable through 2020
In-house replacement(s): Cron, Marc Krauss
Free-agent options: Chris Davis, Mike Napoli (!), Delmon Young
Probable outcome: This situation is strikingly similar to left field. For the last two years, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been scrounging for that ninth bat, going from Raul Ibanez to Cron to Navarro to Krauss to Green to Cron again. Most teams have this problem, though. Perhaps the Angels remain patient with Cron, but I see them getting two bats before August.

Alden

Aybar still day-to-day, hopes to return Saturday …

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar was out of the starting lineup, as expected, on Friday, one day after tweaking his left hamstring while running up the first-base line.

Aybar felt just “a pinch” in his leg, and he hopes to return as early as Saturday.

“I woke up feeling better,” Aybar said in Spanish. “I won’t do anything today. Tomorrow, I’ll run. If I’m fine, I’ll just play tomorrow.”

Aybar’s absence prompted young utility infielder Taylor Featherston to start at shortstop and second baseman Johnny Giavotella to move into the leadoff spot.

Aybar, who started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, suffered the hamstring injury after executing a squeeze bunt in Thursday’s fifth inning. He jogged back to the dugout gingerly and asked to return to the game, but Featherston took his place the next half-inning. He wanted to start Friday, but the Angels told him to take the day off entirely.

They’ll continue to be cautious.

“He has to get to a level the medical department is comfortable with before we consider working him out to see where he is and getting him into a game,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “… When he pulls up, you’re racing in your mind. ‘Is this something where he’s just going to have to come out for this game, or is it going to be a month?’ You just never know with hamstrings. It seems like we’re in the day-to-day range right now.”

The Angels’ offense – 22nd in the Majors in runs per game and 27th in OPS despite a 12-run output on Thursday – can ill afford to lose Aybar for an extended period. The 31-year-old switch-hitter has been hitting .351 since May 8 and had settled in as the Angels’ leadoff spot over the last 11 days.

Giavotella can continue to lead off in Aybar’s place, though Scioscia brought up the possibility of Kole Calhoun returning to the leadoff spot if the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce stays hot. Featherston will get the majority of playing time at shortstop while Aybar heals and Grant Green can also fill in.

If Aybar does go on the disabled list, the Angels would call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A.

Asked about the chances of that happening, Aybar said: “I feel good; I don’t think so. I can’t tell you for sure because it’s a hamstring. But I feel good, thankfully.”

  • Matt Shoemaker, undrafted out of Eastern Michigan University seven years ago, had his own bobblehead giveaway at Angel Stadium on Friday. The 28-year-old right-hander called it “an honor. It’s really humbling and an honor at the same time to say, ‘Hey, they wanted to make a bobblehead out of you.’ Pretty special.”
  • Right-handed reliever Chad Smith was claimed off waivers by the Marlins on Friday. The Angels signed Smith, 25, on May 8, then designated him for assignment on Wednesday to make room on the 40-man roster for outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
  • Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher returned to the team on Friday, after taking a couple days off to be with his daughter while she graduated high school. Triple-A pitching coach Erik Bennett filled for Butcher.
  • The organization will host 1,900 at-risk students at Angel Stadium on Monday, as part of an ongoing effort to keep children out of gangs. The kids got the invitation as a reward for improved school attendance and behavior and for staying out of gangs. It represents the largest group ever to attend an Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP) Angels game.

Alden

Aybar still day-to-day with hamstring injury …

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar felt some tightness in his left hamstring while running down the first-base line in the fifth inning, prompting him to exit Thursday’s 12-2 win early.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he doesn’t expect Aybar to go on the disabled list, “but we will definitely make sure that he’s 100 percent before he gets back in our lineup.”

That could take at least a couple days.

“We can’t stress how important he is to our club,” Scioscia added, “so we have to err on the side of caution with him.”

Aybar, who has started each of the Angels’ first 48 games at shortstop, felt his hamstring grab on him while executing a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the fifth and jogged gingerly back to the dugout, prompting him to get replaced by Taylor Featherston in the top of the sixth.

The 31-year-old switch-hitter was batting .344 since May 3 and had settled into the Angels’ leadoff spot.

If Aybar ultimately has to miss an extended period, the Angels could probably call up Josh Rutledge or Ryan Jackson from Triple-A Salt Lake. One of them would share the position with Featherston, though Grant Green could also get some starts at shortstop, and Johnny Giavotella could be a candidate to bat leadoff.

“This guy’s as important as you want to talk about on our team,” Scioscia said of Aybar, who’s expected to at the very least miss Friday’s game.

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

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

Angels still undecided on Richards …

The Angels still aren’t sure if Garrett Richards start for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday night — five runs, seven hits, four walks, five innings — will be his last before returning to the Major League rotation. Richards will meet with the team in Houston on Wednesday night or Thursday afternoon to decide what the next step will be.

Richards left a lot of balls up in Fresno, Calif., but the Pacific Coast League has a tendency of being a little deceiving.

The important thing is he came out of it healthy — and even fielded a bunt.

“Stuff looked good,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think his command maybe wasn’t as crisp at some points, but he moved well. I think he felt good. We’ll evaluate him when he gets here and see what the next step will be.

“It took him a lot of work to get through the five innings, 90-plus pitches. But his stamina was there.”

Some additional notes from Wednesday, Jackie Robinson Day …

  • Scioscia is still confident he’ll touch base with Josh Hamilton when the Angels go to Houston this weekend, but isn’t sure if it’ll be face-to-face or over the phone. Scioscia said Hamilton’s rehab from shoulder surgery wouldn’t be any different if he were actually with the team — which he hasn’t been all season — but he has no idea where he’s at in his quest to return to baseball activities. “That’s part of the stuff that’s still open-ended,” Scioscia said. “I think it’s been open-ended for some time. A lot depends on where he is, what baseball activities he’s able to perform right now. The surgery he had, there’s a time he needs to heal and there’s a range. We’re still within that range. It’s not like he’s outside that range. But there’s a lot to take into account of just where he is.”
  • Kole Calhoun (right calf) is still out, as expected, with Erick Aybar leading off against Rangers right-hander Anthony Ranuado. Albert Pujols is making his first start at designated hitter, after starting the Angels’ first eight games at first base.
  • Jackie Robinson Day is still special to Scioscia. “I came up in the Dodger organization,” he said. “It was special for all of us young guys to hear the first-hand accounts from Roy Campanella and Carl Erskine and the guys who played on that Brooklyn Dodger team about what a special person Jackie Robinson was, not only as a ballplayer but as a human being and what he went through to make our game so great. A big reason our game is so great is what Jackie went through. It’s a story that needs to be told.”

Alden

Calhoun out until Friday, Richards slated for Sunday …

Kole Calhoun was hopeful to return to the lineup on Tuesday, but his strained right calf will keep him out at least until Friday. Calhoun also won’t start in a day game Wednesday, coupling it with the Thursday off day to make sure he’s 100-percent healthy for Friday’s series opener against the Astros.

That means the Angels’ leadoff hitter will miss four straight games.

“It’s just not there yet,” said Calhoun, who hit a pinch-hit RBI single in Monday’s ninth inning, then came out for pinch-runner Efren Navarro, as planned. “I’ll take it easy today.”

In Calhoun’s place, Erick Aybar led off and Collin Cowgill played right field, batting seventh against right-hander Nick Martinez.

Some additional notes …

  • Garrett Richards will start for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday night, in what will be his final rehab start if all goes well. The Angels plan to have Richards back in the Major League rotation on Sunday, the 19th, and continue to keep him on the normal four days’ rest throughout. That would push Matt Shoemaker to six days’ rest for Monday and Hector Santiago on five days’ rest for Tuesday.
  • Drew Rucinski won’t have any restrictions despite throwing more than 30 pitches in a relief appearance on Saturday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that’s pretty much the length of his normal, between-starts bullpen session — though with more intensity, of course.

Alden

Pujols has his foundation back …

Albert Pujols has never really had a bad Spring Training. He’s hit at least .286 and as high as .407 over the last 10 years, because he always shows up in shape and it never takes him long to find his timing.

He just seems, well, different this spring.

More specifically, his legs look healthier than they have in the last three years.

Pujols entered Spring Training 2013 recovering from offseason surgery to his right knee, then suffered plantar fasciitis around the middle of camp, a condition that didn’t allow him to play past July of that season. That was followed by a prolonged offseason that allowed Pujols to get healthy, but the Angels’ first baseman wasn’t able to strengthen his right knee like he wanted to until this past winter.

Now, it seems, he has a strong foundation at the plate again.

“You could tell the difference when you’re in good health, and he is right now,” Angels shortstop Erick Aybar said.

“He looks strong right now,” third baseman David Freese added. “His lower half looks strong; as strong as I’ve seen it over the last few years, watching him and obviously seeing it in person. I think he’s taking care of himself.”

Pujols entered Friday’s game batting .326 (14-for-43) with four home runs in Cactus League play. All of those homers have come over his last six games, with the latest coming Thursday, a towering shot to left-center-field on a high-and-inside fastball from Cubs reliever Jason Motte.

But the 35-year-old has been driving the ball to the opposite field all spring, an indication that his right leg is feeling better and a positive sign considering he was shifted on more than any right-handed hitter in baseball last year.

“I think he’s found ways to manage what’s been bothering him with the experience of going through it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s certainly in great shape and he’s moving well.”

Some additional notes from Friday …

  • Freese, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow on Tuesday, took batting practice and did some defensive work in the morning. He’s expected to return to the lineup on Saturday.
  • Marc Krauss, out since Sunday with back spasms, was expected to play later in Friday’s game.
  • Kole Calhoun, who exited Thursday’s game after taking a fastball to his right triceps muscle, played catch but stayed away from hitting. The Angels’ right fielder is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
  • Drew Rucinski was slated to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday, throwing five innings and 75 pitches.
  • Mark Trumbo is in the lineup for the D-backs, marking the first time ever that he’ll face the Angels.
  • The Angels are still stretching Jose Alvarez out as a starter, but not to the point where he’ll be throwing 100-plus pitches. They want to give him enough length to potentially serve as starting-pitching depth, but Alvarez is also in the running for a bullpen spot. “With he, with Rucinski, with some of the swing guys, you have to find a balance,” Scioscia said. “… You want them to get enough length to be depth in your rotation but still maintain their stuff to where you can have them in your bullpen. He’s on the depth chart in two spots.”

Alden

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