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Monday, August 2, 2010
Updated: August 3, 9:58 PM ET
Angels lag on outfield defense

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Of the seven games the Los Angeles Angels have lost to the team they're chasing -- the Texas Rangers -- five have been decided by one run. The other two were decided by two.

Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir's high fly-ball count makes strong outfield defense imperative for the Angels.

In close contests, which are usually crammed with good pitching and pressure-filled moments, a team's secondary qualities tend to show up. It's those areas of the Angels that have been exposed in 2010.

"They've been one-run games, battles. Good pitching, great defense," said Torii Hunter, who then paused to reflect. "Uh & tough defense on our side, but good defense on theirs."

The problem wasn't so glaring when the Angels were setting club records in a bunch of offensive categories last season, but it looks like a neon-lights screamer now that they rank a mediocre seventh in runs scored in the American League. The Angels' outfield defense is among the most porous in baseball.

The Angels are among four teams in baseball with negative "runs saved" at all three outfield spots, according to Baseball Info Solutions. The problem has been compounded by the Angels' pitching staff's propensity to give up fly balls. Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir are extreme fly-ball pitchers. The Angels' staff ranks in the upper one-third among major league teams in fly-ball percentage.

"It's obvious right now that, sure, on the defensive side, some things have slipped away and we're not playing at the level we need to," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Some of that's been compounded and has been probably noticed because our offense that has really struggled.

"Right now, if we're not scoring runs, there's going to be a big emphasis on stopping runs."

It's harder to fix a team-wide, four-month hitting slump than it is to inject a little speed in the outfield.

Fixing the Angels' defensive failings appear to be at the top of management's to-do list, in the short and long term. According to a source, the Angels are about to promote speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos from Triple-A Salt Lake to see if he can help them track down fly balls for the next two months. In the offseason, they'll work on it some more, perhaps by signing free-agent-to-be Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays, one of baseball's best athletes.

Weaver Any fly ball pitcher will tell you they want to have a quick outfield, but it's not up to me what they do here. I'm just a piece of this puzzle. Everybody's trying to get to a championship. Whatever ownership wants to do in the offseason, that's their decision. I just work here and focus on trying to get to our goal.

-- Jered Weaver, Angels pitcher

If and when the Angels do get a little faster in the outfield, you can count Weaver as among the first to celebrate. He has been the primary victim of the Angels' slow outfield. He has some of the best internal numbers in baseball, but sports a so-so 10-7 record. He has repeatedly bitten his tongue in interviews, but his frustration has sometimes been obvious while he's been on the mound.

"Any fly ball pitcher will tell you they want to have a quick outfield, but it's not up to me what they do here," Weaver said. "I'm just a piece of this puzzle. Everybody's trying to get to a championship. Whatever ownership wants to do in the offseason, that's their decision. I just work here and focus on trying to get to our goal."

The first thing to remember is that the Angels won 97 games last season with the same outfield they have trotted out over these past four months. But another year has cost Bobby Abreu, 36, speed and a quick first step. More than one Angels player has grumbled privately that Juan Rivera hasn't played with maximum effort. Rivera also broke his leg three winters ago and hasn't run as well since.

Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, who is in charge of the outfielders, insists they're working hard, taking fly balls and grounders during batting practice. He thinks part of the problem has been bad luck. Hitters have repeatedly hit balls in places they rarely do, confounding the Angels' scouting reports.

In one recent game, Boston's Jed Lowrie sliced a deep liner over Rivera's head, a crucial RBI hit in a game Weaver lost to ex-Angel John Lackey. According to Roenicke, Lowrie hadn't hit a deep fly ball to left field all season before that. Right before the fateful pitch, Rivera gestured to Roenicke with his palms raised, asking him where to stand. Roenicke yelled, "Right where you are."

"What if I had put him five feet further back?" Roenicke said.

"If a guy has hit 10 balls over here and one ball over there, I'm going to play here," Roenicke said. "Well, sure enough, they hit it right there. It might look like, 'Geez, the guy's not covering ground,' but it's because I'm putting him there. Weaver, unfortunately, has been the one it's been the worst for."

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.