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ANGELS REPORT

It's a contact sport again for Guerrero

May 07, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Vladimir Guerrero showed signs of breaking out of a 10-day slump in which his average fell 39 points, doubling and tripling in Tuesday's win over the Royals.

"I think No. 27 might be finding his way back," reliever Scot Shields said.

Since collecting his 2,000th hit in Detroit on April 26, Guerrero had managed just four singles in 26 at-bats -- a .154 average -- before he tripled off the center-field wall in the first inning Tuesday. Guerrero later doubled, walked and scored two runs. He also lost a hit and a run batted in when second baseman Mark Grudzielanek speared his line drive up the middle in the eighth.

"He's been searching," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's just going to be a matter of time before he feels comfortable in the box and starts swinging the bat the way he can. He went a long way toward getting there tonight. He had good at-bats tonight."

Guerrero agreed.

"You know, sometimes you feel like you're pulling away a little," he said in Spanish. "But I feel good. I don't have any problems. I'm [just] not getting hits.

"But I think before long, it'll start."

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In a lineup that includes four former All-Stars, it's easy to overlook cleanup hitter Casey Kotchman, who is quietly putting together an All-Star-caliber season of his own.

Kotchman, who had two hits Tuesday, leads the team in hitting (.333) and ranks second in homers (six) and RBIs (21). And he started Tuesday batting a baseball-best .545 against left-handers, a talent he rarely got to display in his first three seasons with the Angels.

"I don't analyze anything, I just play," said Kotchman, who faced left-handers only 49 times -- versus 272 at-bats against right-handers -- from 2004 through '06. But after becoming the Angels' everyday first baseman last season, his at-bats against left-handers have increased. And so has his success.

"Just seeing balls from both angles, guys throwing left-handed or right-handed, if you go back and look at left-handed hitters, they've always said seeing left-handed pitching helps them hit right-handers, just keeping them on the ball," said Kotchman, who added that perfecting the shorter swing needed to hit left-handers has helped his overall approach at the plate.

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Torii Hunter spent eight seasons playing behind a Santana in Minnesota. And he compares Angels right-hander Ervin Santana favorably with left-hander Johan Santana, who won two Cy Young Awards with the Twins.

"This guy, he's been dealing," he said of the Angels' Santana, who beat the Royals with a four-hit shutout Monday. "He's throwing the ball inside, outside corner. He had the off-speed working. So he's very impressive."

Hunter, who said improved control has played a big part in his new teammate's fast start, played a big part himself in Santana's sixth straight win, recording a career-high nine putouts in center field.

"Nine putouts. How about that?" he said. "I think I lost five pounds."

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Howie Kendrick homered twice and singled in three at-bats Tuesday during a rehab-assignment game with the Angels' California League affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, giving him five hits in his six minor league at-bats. Kendrick could rejoin the Angels as early as today in Kansas City or by Friday in Tampa, Fla.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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