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Monday, April 5, 2010
Updated: April 6, 5:53 PM ET
Aybar's patience brings relief

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Erick Aybar
Erick Aybar's patience at the plate paid off in the Angels' home opener.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Never mind that the Los Angeles Angels didn't break the tie until the fifth inning, or that they didn't salt the game away until the eighth.

Erick Aybar gave the Angels their first taste of offensive chemistry in the first 10 meaningful pitches they saw in 2010.

Scott Baker probably will have a hard time trusting his scouting reports after what happened in that first at-bat of the Angels' 6-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on Monday: a 10-pitch walk.

"We were able to see all his pitches and get a feel for what his velocity was like, what his curveball was doing, what his slider was doing," Torii Hunter said. "Aybar looks good at the top of the lineup."

There is, of course, the inevitable disclaimer, and Hunter had to drop it next: It's only one game.

But Aybar couldn't have gotten off to a much better start calming some nerves around here.

How the Angels would replace Chone Figgins as a catalyst has been a flashing neon worry around this team since December, when Figgins became a Seattle Mariner.

In all, Aybar saw 24 pitches Monday night. Last year, that would have been a week's worth for him. A hitter doesn't change overnight, and Aybar has always been a free-swinger, but he is showing signs of gradually reshaping his game to fit the job.

He got on base three times and scored twice Monday night.

"Erick is, obviously, trying to bring a piece of the puzzle to fill some of the void Chone did so well for us last year," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's off to a great start, he had a great spring and hopefully he'll bring that part game-to-game."

Up-and-comer


The Angels are hoping to take the heat off of Brandon Wood by batting him down in the order. The minor league slugger batted eighth Monday.

"That just allows me to focus on the little things, like getting a guy over, getting a run in from third," Wood said. "In Triple-A, I'm hitting three, four or five every day. I was expected to drive in runs."

But you can't hide a guy in the American League. Wood's perennial struggle -- with strikeouts -- has been around all spring. He struck out 15 times in 72 at-bats this spring.

Wood looked overmatched Monday, going 0-for-4 and going down swinging in his first three at-bats. When he struck out in the sixth, he walked to the dugout to scattered boos from a sellout crowd.

Trends


The Angels' catching platoon is always a hot topic. Scioscia's latest pronouncement is that one of the two catchers can take the job and run with it, even though he split playing time roughly in half last season.

Jeff Mathis got the first start of the year and took an early step toward holding it down. Mathis launched a solo home run in the second inning. He saved at least one run in the sixth.

With the bases loaded, Weaver's first pitch to Delmon Young bounced in the dirt a foot outside. Mathis slid his feet and blocked it, something Mike Napoli probably wouldn't have been able to do.

Scene and heard


The Angels are making an effort to meet Hideki Matsui in the middle.

On the grease board in the clubhouse, attendants are teaching Angels players Japanese, one phrase at a time. The phrase for Monday was "yoku yatta," which means "Good job."

Reliever Scot Shields practiced his pronunciation with Matsui's translator, Roger Kahlon.

Later, the scene outside the dugout was reminiscent of Yankee Stadium in the playoffs, largely because of Matsui's presence. When he emerged from the tunnel to take the field and stretch, 15-20 TV camera operators ran and jostled to get in better position.

About 45 Japanese reporters will cover the Angels' home games on a daily basis.

Quote of the day


"I think he loves pressure. There's no pressure out there; he's like a normal guy. Once pressure gets out there, he's really Godzilla."

-- Hunter on Matsui

Look ahead


Joe Saunders pitched Opening Day last year, but he'll have to settle for Game 2 in 2010. He'll oppose Minnesota's Nick Blackburn, who went 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA last season.

Last season, Saunders -- filling in for an injured John Lackey -- combined with two relievers on a 3-0 shutout of the Oakland A's in the opener. Later that season, Saunders experienced shoulder tightness, but said he felt great this spring.