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Shields keeps it simple

June 23, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- There was a slight mechanical adjustment to improve his balance, but the most important thing Scot Shields learned from last season's second-half collapse, when he had a 7.36 earned-run average in 31 games after posting a 1.70 ERA in 40 first-half games, was "to keep it simple, don't complicate things."

That's why when Shields wants to throw his breaking ball for a strike, he now aims at the catcher's mask, and when he wants to throw it for a ball in hopes of getting a swing at a pitch in the dirt, he aims for the glove.

The result has been the best breaking ball of Shields' career "in terms of movement and placement," he said. "The biggest thing the last few games is I've been able to throw it for strikes and get it down in the zone to get swings and misses."

Shields entered the seventh inning Sunday with the tying run on second base and one out and struck out Philadelphia's Chris Coste with a 94-mph fastball and Chase Utley with a breaking ball.

The right-hander then retired the side in order in the eighth inning to extend his scoreless streak to 14 innings over his last 13 games. Shields is 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 30 games this season.

"He's in a nice rhythm out there, and his setup is promoting a good delivery," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He figured some things out from his struggles last year, and he's used it to get locked in."

Closing time

Shields gave way to Francisco Rodriguez, who got So Taguchi to pop up with two on to close the Angels' 3-2 victory over the Phillies, giving the right-hander 30 saves in 32 chances.

Rodriguez is on pace to break Bobby Thigpen's season record of 57 saves, set in 1990, and has 19 games to break John Smoltz's major league record of 34 saves before the All-Star break.

"It's too early to think about numbers; it's only June," Rodriguez said. "Let's see where we're at in September."

But when told of Smoltz's mark, Rodriguez said, "OK, let's go for it. I've got three weeks and 19 games. I have a pretty good chance."

Don't push it

Maicer Izturis has followed a conditioning program, he's drinking lots of water and stretching, and still his right hamstring tightened up so much he asked out of Saturday's game in the second inning.

It might have been the best decision the shortstop, who sat out 13 weeks in 2006 and 2007 because of hamstring pulls, makes this season.

"In the past, it would tighten up and I wouldn't say anything because I wanted to play," Izturis said. "This year, I'm trying to be smart, to be safe. If I miss two games now, I might play the rest of the season. A pulled hamstring is not what I want."

Izturis, who has hit .378 (28 for 74) with 12 runs batted in over his last 18 games, sat out Sunday and probably will sit out tonight's game.

"It seems like when he goes down, he goes down hard," Scioscia said. "So we'll be cautious with him."

Short hops

John Lackey, who will start tonight's series opener at Washington, is 13-3 with three complete games, two of them shutouts, and a 1.95 ERA in his last 16 road starts, and 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 19 interleague appearances. . . . Angels starting pitchers lead the major leagues with 38 victories, and they rank second in the American League with 484 innings pitched and fourth with a 3.79 ERA.


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