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ANGELS FYI

Lackey is victim of long ball

September 08, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The number is startling and leaps off John Lackey's statistical line like so many of the balls that jumped out of U.S. Cellular Field this weekend.

The Angels ace is 11-3 with a 3.25 earned-run average, striking out 113 and walking 34 in 149 1/3 innings, but he has given up a team-high 23 home runs, more than he gave up in any of the previous four seasons.

Seventeen of those home runs have come in Lackey's last 12 games after he gave up only six in his first nine games.

And Lackey sat out the first six weeks of the season because of an elbow injury and has thrown the fewest innings of any Angels starter.

"His command has been good, he's in the zone a lot, and if the result of him staying aggressive in the zone is having virtually every number be terrific with the exception of giving up a few more home runs, that's a good trade-off," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

"His innings pitched are way up there, he's going deep into games, and he's winning, which is huge."

It's not as if Lackey is pitching more to contact. He is averaging 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings, only a shade below his career average of 7.2 before the season.

"The bottom line is his numbers are terrific," Scioscia said. "Giving up a few more home runs could be a residual effect from pounding the strike zone the way he does. Overall, everything he's done has been a positive."

Playing with fire

Justin Speier's home runs are also up, but that is a concern for the Angels. The reliever has given up 13 home runs, a career, in 60 2/3 innings. Six have been game winners, including Jim Thome's 15th-inning walk-off shot Saturday.

"If you're constantly making mistakes and missing spots, and maybe you get away with some and some are squared up and hit out of the park, it's almost like you're out there playing Russian roulette," Scioscia said.

Speier, who is 1-8 with a 5.04 ERA in 56 games, has looked sharp in several recent outings, but has been unable to maintain his stuff from one outing to the next. That unreliability probably will cost the veteran right-hander a spot on the Angels' playoff roster.

"Justin's good outings, his command has been spotless, " Scioscia said. "Some of his rougher outings, he's missed spots on a consistent basis and has hit bats. He's throwing the ball much better over last 10 outings, but that consistency has to be there."

Reinforcements arrive

After relievers combined to throw 14 innings Friday and Saturday, the Angels purchased the contract of triple-A right-hander Kevin Jepsen, who arrived at U.S. Cellular Field about half an hour before Sunday's game and was available.

Jepsen, who played for the U.S. at the Olympics, emerged as a top prospect this season and was 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA in 25 games at double A and 1-3 with a 2.35 ERA in 15 games at triple A. He has a 96-mph fastball and power breaking ball.

The Angels called up catcher Bobby Wilson and infielders Matt Brown and Freddy Sandoval. To make room for Sandoval on the 40-man roster, reliever Jeff Kennard, who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Jose Molina deal, was released.

Short hops

Jered Weaver, whose Friday start was pushed back because of cuts on the middle and ring fingers of his pitching hand, threw a regular between-starts bullpen workout and is expected to pitch Tuesday. . . . Francisco Rodriguez is only the second pitcher in major league history to accumulate 60 save chances in one season. Bobby Thigpen had 65 chances and a record 57 saves in 1990.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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