Thursday, May 20, 2010 Updated: May 21, 12:05 PM ET
Angels' offense coming together
By Mark Saxon ESPNLosAngeles.com
CHICAGO -- For Juan Rivera, it was a matter of calming himself down in the batter's box, getting back to the more patient approach that helped him have a career year in 2009. He's not looking for walks. He's looking for mistakes.
"Before, I was swinging at everything. Now, I'm looking for one pitch," Rivera said.
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For Torii Hunter, it was just finding a spot in the lineup where he felt more comfortable. The same goes for Bobby Abreu. Step by step, game by game, this Los Angeles Angels offense is becoming what it thought it was. The Angels had 11 hits, three for extra bases, to beat the Chicago White Sox and 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy 6-5 on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
This is no longer a lineup of pesky little runners who force their way on base and run until a team forces them to stop. It now has to push a pitcher into an uncomfortable corner and punish him when he flinches. Even manager Mike Scioscia, who for a while was gaining a reputation for being a guru of the speed game, is waiting for this team's power to blossom. There are signs here and there that it has.
"We have the potential for more power," Scioscia said. "Not only the potential. ... We need it the way our lineup lines up."
The Angels thought they had a powerful team this spring, maybe the most powerful since Scioscia's first year. But for weeks, because of slumps and a lack of offensive chemistry, the Angels had trouble generating noise. Now, their power is on the upswing, or at least riding a healthy uptick. The team has hit nine home runs in its last six games. Rivera clubbed a two-run shot in the sixth Thursday, kind of the knockout blow for Peavy.
Long near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, the Angels are climbing. They're now eighth in runs scored and fifth in home runs.
Like most pitchers, Ervin Santana appreciates it when his offense scores early runs for him.
A few weeks ago, pitcher Ervin Santana blamed the Angels' lack of clutch hitting for the team's failure to live up to expectations. Thursday night, that same offense helped him settle into a groove. The Angels had scored two runs by the time Santana took the mound. By the time he went out for the third inning, they had built him a 4-0 lead.
"Early runs are the best," Santana said. "That gives me confidence, and I work more quickly."
It turns out the Angels needed all those runs, because the bullpen nearly frittered away a 6-1 lead. And no, you can't blame closer Brian Fuentes for this one. On Thursday, it was the Angels' most reliable relievers, Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Rodney, who made a boring game suddenly exciting.
Jepsen got two quick outs before allowing four straight hitters to reach base. Rodney gave up two hits, including a two-run double that A.J. Pierzynski sliced into the left-field corner. The score would have been tied right then, except Pierzynski's ball bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double, forcing Juan Pierre to return to third. Rodney got Andruw Jones to pop up to end the inning, and Fuentes got three lazy fly balls in the ninth for his sixth save in eight chances.
The night before, a shaky save from Fuentes had sparked a debate about whether he should remain the closer. He made an argument for keeping the job. He fell behind Konerko -- who had homered off him the night before -- 3-and-0, but battled back in the count and got him to lift a weak fly to right. The Angels entered Thursday with the worst bullpen ERA (5.20) in the American League by a healthy margin.
"It's been a struggle for me so far to this point, but things are getting better and I'm always an optimist," Fuentes said.
Knock on Wood?
Utility infielder Kevin Frandsen replaced Brandon Wood at third base Thursday, and Scioscia indicated it might not be a one-day break for the slumping Wood. A minor league slugger, Wood is batting .162 and has three extra-base hits in 117 at-bats.
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The Angels expect Maicer Izturis to return from the disabled list in a matter of days, which could mean part-time duty for Wood going forward.
"We've been trying to grind it out. Obviously at times, we've seen a little progress and at other times, we haven't seen as much progress and we've seen some frustration levels start to mount," Scioscia said. "We'll give him a day and, if we have to give him more than one, it's definitely something we're going to consider.
"The long-term goal is to get Brandon productive."
Scioscia said he had seen signs recently that Wood's frustration is affecting him. He had a 3-and-0 count in his final at-bat Wednesday before striking out against John Danks.
Quote of the day
"I've been having a little struggle with walks, so I'm just trying to locate, locate, locate." -- Santana, sounding a little like a real-estate agent.
The Angels enter their favorite time of year, interleague play, with a three-game series in St. Louis starting Friday. It is this portion of the schedule that has launched them toward the playoffs in each of the three previous seasons. The Angels have gone 34-16 against the National League since 2007. They're tied with Minnesota for the best interleague record since 2000 (108-72).
The Cardinals and Angels have met twice before, both times in St. Louis. In 2002, the Cardinals took two of three games. In 2007, the Angels took two of three.
The Angels pitchers are truly awful hitters, as pitchers are on most AL teams. The two best are Scott Kazmir (.125 in eight at-bats) and Joel Pineiro (.121 in 33 at-bats), who faces his former team Friday night.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.