Shortstop David Eckstein, who missed four consecutive games because of a sprained left knee before pinch-hitting in the Angels' 5-2 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, may return to the lineup today when the Angels open a two-game series with the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Eckstein said his knee felt a lot better before the team departed for Kansas City, but Angel Manager Mike Scioscia cautioned there is no reason to rush Eckstein back into the lineup.
"We want to make sure he's playing at a level he needs to play, to play shortstop, and it may take some time," Scioscia said.
"It's not just like you're coming back and you're going to hit and run. It's a demanding position that you have to really feel good as far as where your legs are.
"All indications are he's making progress. He can hit. Playing defense will be the next step."
Eckstein failed to drive in Scott Spiezio from third base Sunday during his plate appearance in the seventh inning, hitting a ground ball to Minnesota shortstop Cristian Guzman, who threw Spiezio out at the plate. Eckstein, wearing a protective pad over his injured knee, was replaced by pinch-runner Adam Kennedy.
Eckstein, who suffered his injury sliding into first base against Kansas City on May 20, has not enjoyed the view from the dugout while sitting out more games than at any other time in his five-year professional career.
He has been the Angels' most pleasant surprise this season, stealing a team-high 11 bases and hitting .273 with three home runs and 24 runs batted in.
"It's very difficult to watch, but fortunately the team is playing very well," Eckstein said. "But there's that fine line where you don't want to return and do something [to cause] further damage."
Alfredo Amezaga, called up from triple-A Salt Lake on Friday, understands why Scioscia lifted him in favor of pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro on Sunday with a runner on third and one out in the seventh inning. But Amezaga also longs for the opportunity to make an impact in a high-pressure situation.
"Definitely. That's why I came here," Amezaga said.
Eckstein batted for Palmeiro when the Twins replaced reliever Mike Jackson with J.C. Romero but failed to drive in the run.
"What we were looking for with a guy on third base was guys who are going to make contact," Scioscia said.
With four games left in May, the Angels have a chance for their best record in the month in club history.
They are 17-5 and could surpass the 1989 team's 18-7 record with continued success in two games against Kansas City and two more against Minnesota.
The Angels swept the Royals in a three-game series last week and are 16-4 against American League Central teams.
Opponent--Kansas City Royals, two games.
TV--Channel 9 tonight, none Wednesday.
Radio--KPLS (830) and XPRS (1090) today, KLAC (570) and XPRS Wednesday.
Records--Angels 28-19, Royals 19-29.
Record vs. Royals--3-0.
(4-2, 4.64 ERA)
(7-2, 2.82 ERA)
Update--Byrd had a no-decision after pitching seven-plus innings in Kansas City's 7-6 loss to the Angels last Wednesday. Byrd, who has seven of the Royals' 19 victories, was staked to a 5-0 lead but could not hold it. Sele had a no-decision last Tuesday after giving up eight hits but only one run in 62/3 innings during the Angels' 5-1 victory over Kansas City.
Wednesday, 5 p.m.--Scott Schoeneweis (3-4, 5.43) vs. Jeremy Affeldt (1-1, 2.77).