Monday, May 23, 2011
Is Torii Hunter a foundation for the offense?
By Mark Saxon
Torii Hunter spent the early part of his career as a defensive whiz who tended to sting an opponent as frequently while roaming the outfield as in the batter's box.
He's always wanted to be an elite hitter that a manager could build a lineup around. He wanted it so badly, in fact, he tried to be somebody he wasn't.
Absent Kendrys Morales all season and Vernon Wells for the past couple of weeks, Hunter expanded his swing and, sometimes, expanded his strike zone. The result was one of the worst two months in his major-league career. Rock bottom was Thursday in Seattle, when Hunter lost a pop-up in the sun to lose the game and went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .218.
"He's too good a hitter to, I think, stay down as long as we saw," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
For the first time this season, Hunter looks like he's found it. He slammed two doubles to right-center field Monday night, including the one in the eighth inning that pushed across the go-ahead run in the Angels' 4-1 win over the Oakland A's.
Since that day in Seattle, Hunter is 7-for-15 with six RBIs and, as Scioscia put it, his swing has more "crispness" to it. Merry crispness, in fact.
"That's why you have elite players, because they know how to step up and that's what I wanted to do," Hunter said. "Maybe I tried to do it a little too much, but that's the only way I know how to play: hard as hell."
For much of last year, Hunter plugged away with scant protection after Morales collapsed on top of home plate: He led the team in batting average (.281), total bases and RBIs (91).
The Angels are a far more menacing team if they can find a way to blend in Hunter to a deeper mix of hitters. Right now, with Wells and Howie Kendrick injured, he's standing out as the only veteran hitter with power. Scioscia thinks this offense has more potential than it's showing right now, but that's not a particularly high bar. The Angels have scored more than four runs in a game just once in the last 12 games.
The Texas Rangers just welcomed back their two most dangerous hitters, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, and each homered in his debut Monday. The days of middling around at .500 and contending in the AL West might not last long, so the Angels have to find more offensive continuity.
"There's definitely more there," Scioscia said. "I sure hope there's more."