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Hatcher tries to reenergize slumping offense

June 30, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

The Angels hold a hitters meeting before the start of each series, but when batting coach Mickey Hatcher summons players into a conference room before tonight's game against the Oakland Athletics, he will have a slightly different agenda.

"When we get home, we're going to have a meeting and figure out how many of these guys are trying to get me fired," Hatcher said after the Angels' 1-0 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday.

Yes, Hatcher was joking. But he has been criticized so heavily over the last four years, a period marked by long stretches of offensive futility, that you half-wondered whether he was serious.

The Angels are in another rut, scoring only one run and batting .161 (15 for 93) in three games against the Dodgers. Because of their superb pitching, the Angels won for a major league-high 16th time while scoring three runs or fewer.

The Angels won five of six at Philadelphia and Washington but seemed to lack life against the Dodgers. In their last six games, the Angels have 53 strikeouts and nine walks.

"The last few days in that locker room, I don't know how to describe it, but it's not the same team," Hatcher said before Sunday's game. "The energy level is real low. Sometimes that happens when you travel coast to coast. I don't know why."

A common theme: The Angels are swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone.

"It's something I've been beat up my whole life for," Hatcher said. "I want them to be aggressive on the fastball in the zone, but I tell them pitchers aren't going to throw you breaking balls for strikes. They're swinging at bad pitches."


Crunch time

John Lackey didn't sweat out the first 8 2/3 innings Sunday, when the Angels ace blanked the Dodgers on three hits and struck out nine, but that last one-third of an inning was a real nail-biter.

After walking Russell Martin with his 120th pitch, Lackey was pulled in favor of closer Francisco Rodriguez, who walked Jeff Kent to load the bases.

But Rodriguez got James Loney to ground to second for his major league-high 32nd save, two shy of John Smoltz's record of 34 saves before the All-Star break.

"I'm way more nervous watching than pitching -- it's not even close," Lackey said. "But Frankie is getting it done. How many saves does he have, 32? That's crazy. He's got a plane flight to New York [for the July 15 All-Star game], that's for sure."


Change of pace

Rodriguez, who relies mostly on a 93-mph fastball and one of the game's most devastating breaking pitches, has been developing his changeup for three years, but Sunday marked the first time he used it in a crucial situation.

His last pitch of the game, a 2-and-2 changeup to Loney, induced a weak ground ball to second for the final out.

"I definitely wouldn't have thrown that pitch in that situation in the past," Rodriguez said. "I would have thrown a fastball or a breaking ball. I didn't want to go 3-2. I wanted to throw a quality pitch."


Short hops

One bright spot for the Angels' offense Sunday: Seldom-used reserve outfielder Juan Rivera had two hits and scored a run. With two left-handers starting for the A's this week, Manager Mike Scioscia said Rivera could get more playing time. . . . Leadoff batter Chone Figgins was a late addition to the lineup Sunday, the infection in his left knee that limited him to one pinch-hit appearance in two games healing well enough for him to play. . . . Kelvim Escobar (shoulder tear) is scheduled to throw 45 pitches tonight in a rehabilitation start for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.


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