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ANGELS REPORT

Willits making best of it

May 13, 2007|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Reggie Willits is playing on borrowed time. When Garret Anderson returns from a hip-flexor tear, probably by the end of this month, he will return to left field and Willits, barring another injury or a bold move on the part of Manager Mike Scioscia, will probably return to the bench.

But what a run it's been. Willits, starting his 14th consecutive game, singled and scored in each of his first two at-bats in Saturday's 6-3 win over Texas and is hitting .379 (25 for 66) in his last 18 games.

He also made a superb over-the-shoulder catch of Kenny Lofton's first-inning fly ball before crashing into the chain-link fence covering the out-of-town scoreboard, robbing Lofton of a sure double.

"That didn't feel real good," Willits said. "I was hoping to run into the padding. You don't run into too many chain-link fences up here."

Willits, a 25-year-old rookie, would gladly run into a few more of them if it meant playing every day. He is showing he belongs, working counts and good at-bats out of the leadoff spot, stealing bases, scoring runs and playing solid defense.

"I don't know if anyone is taking Garret's spot, but Reggie has played extremely well," center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. said. "He looks poised and comfortable out there. He seems to learn from his mistakes. With time, he'll get better."

If Willits continues to spark the offense and Shea Hillenbrand continues to struggle, Scioscia could either keep Willits in left field and move Anderson to designated hitter, or use Willits in the leadoff spot as a DH and keep Matthews, who led off in April, in the middle of the order.

"I'm just glad to be playing -- whatever happens, happens," Willits said. "I'm just holding down the spot until G.A. gets ready. I'll try to stay sharp when I do get the opportunity to play."

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This spring, as Bartolo Colon began his rehabilitation from a rotator-cuff tear, he said an expected reduction in velocity would force him to change speeds and locate his pitches rather than relying on the 98-mph heater of his youth.

That's been true ... but only to a degree. Colon, who improved to 4-0 Saturday, is changing speeds more, but his fastball is touching 95-96 mph.

"My mentality is the same," said Colon, who showed no ill effects Saturday from a mild triceps strain that knocked him out of his previous start in the eighth inning. "What I'm trying to do more is change speeds on my fastball to give it different looks. Not necessarily because of my injury, but because people know more about me."

Scioscia said Colon looks much like the pitcher who won the 2005 American League Cy Young Award.

"His velocity is terrific, but so is his command," Scioscia said. "He's turned his fastball into three or four different looks, he has a good breaking ball, and his stuff is crisp. It's the same stuff we saw a couple years ago."

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Vladimir Guerrero was intentionally walked twice Saturday, giving him 24 walks on the season, 12 of them intentional, which leads the league. The slugger is on pace for 105 walks, 53 of them intentional. "The only way to combat that," Scioscia said, "is to set the table in front of him and have the guys behind him take advantage." ... Orlando Cabrera had three hits, scored two runs and knocked in a run Saturday, improving his average to .277.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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