Thursday, May 12, 2011
Maicer Izturis: Stealth MVP?
By Mark Saxon
The New York Yankees have Mark Teixeira. He’s 6-feet-3, 220 pounds and big enough to knock a catcher for a loop when he bears down on the plate. Just ask Bobby Wilson.
Boston has Adrian Gonzalez, all 225 pounds of him, and all 35-40 home runs of him. The Chicago White Sox have Adam Dunn, who is built like an offensive lineman.
And the Angels? Their No. 3 hitter is a 5-foot-8 middle infielder who, depending on the day and what he had for lunch, weighs in the neighborhood of 175 pounds. But here’s the thing: Nobody on the Angels is all that concerned about it and few of the teams that play them are all that surprised by it.
Maicer Izturis is one of the stealthiest stars of the American League, widely respected in the game and virtually unknown outside of it.
“When you have one of the best managers in baseball hitting you third, it’s for a reason,” Chicago’s Ozzie Guillen said the other day. “Mike Scioscia is a very smart manager, a very smart man and he knows his club better than anyone. Why does he put this man batting third? There’s a bunch of reasons, there’s 330 reasons out there.”
Guillen was referring to Izturis’ batting average, now .328, which ranks seventh in the American League. But his value goes deeper than one, flashy and transient number. He hits better than anyone in the Angels’ lineup in the clutch. He came into this season a .323 lifetime hitter with runners in scoring position.
Last year, he hit in every slot in the lineup other than No. 9, he made just two errors and he played three positions -- arguably as well as anyone who plays just one. Scioscia doesn’t mince words. He thinks Izturis’ is either the Angels’ team MVP thus far, or at least in the thick of the argument.
“He’s never in the limelight, he’s not a flashy player, but you don’t see many players with his ability to be so multi-dimensional on the offensive end and on the defensive end, to be able to play three positions at Gold Glove caliber,” Scioscia said.
The Angels are trying to recover from news that Kendrys Morales will be lost to them for the season after he undergoes a second surgery on his left ankle. They played last season largely without Morales and Izturis, who had three stints on the disabled list and played just 61 games.
“Most guys internally understand that Maicer’s absence from our lineup for so long was equally challenging to overcome as Kendrys’ issues,” Scioscia said.
Which explains why Scioscia still isn’t ready to play Izturis six or seven times a week. After today, the Angels don’t have another open date until June 2, so you can bet Izturis will be rested at least once a week. He has made nine trips to the disabled list in the last six years.
Izturis, 30, is in the best place of his career, after fighting for at-bats and playing time all of his professional life. He's settled into an everyday job and, usually, he can bank on playing one position, second base. He's never had this kind of security.
The Angels are hopeful they can get Izturis 500 plate appearances this season, which would be a career high.
Izturis is far from a household name even in his home country, Venezuela, where Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera are national icons. His brother, Cesar, is still better known though his role with the Baltimore Orioles has decreased.
“I don’t pay attention to that. A lot of people who love baseball, they know who I am,” Izturis said. “I’m enjoying this, because I love baseball. I come here just to try to win, you know?”