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BILL DWYRE

Angels' Trevor Bell makes a good first impression

In his major-league debut, the pitcher gives up four runs and nine hits in 51/3 innings in Angels' 10-5 victory. He admits to jitters but earns praise.

August 13, 2009|BILL DWYRE

The boy walked among the men and survived quite well Wednesday. The Angels wanted a devil of an effort against the Tampa Bay Rays, and they got that and more from fuzzy-faced Trevor Bell.

The 22-year-old right-hander had been the Angels' top draft pick, No. 37 overall, in June 2005. In his last season at Crescenta Valley High, he had the big-league scouts scurrying for a look. Among his most impressive statistics: 113 strikeouts and 11 walks in 80 innings.

That, and a $975,000 bonus, got him a tour of various minor leagues, some of them clearly the trailer parks of baseball. He struggled for a while, which is normal, before suddenly finding a rhythm that has carried him from the double-A level early this season, to the triple-A level by June 16.

And suddenly, to the bright lights of the bigs.

Wednesday, he was the starting pitcher for a team that is now 24 games above .500 and an obvious force to be reckoned with in the postseason. He was going against the American League representative in last season's World Series, a Murderer's Row whose first five hitters were all-stars this year.

Had Manager Mike Scioscia led his lamb to slaughter?

Hardly.

Bell didn't walk off the mound with the win, in a game in which the Angels did their normal wrecking crew job on the other team in a 10-5 victory. But in his 5 1/3 innings, he kept the Rays to nine hits, four runs, walked only one and struck out four. He will have nightmares about Carlos Pena's two towering home runs -- "Boy, can he hit," a wide-eyed Bell said afterward -- but he walked away, head held high, more starts as an Angel likely, and praise from high places ringing in his ears.

"Bell was sharp," Scioscia said. "I liked his moxie. He gave up a couple of home runs to a guy who hits a lot of them. There is no shame in that."

Bell said he felt good when Scioscia came with the hook, one out into the sixth inning and a minute or so after Pena had scattered the crowd again in the right-field bleachers. Bell had lasted 18 minutes shy of two hours, had made 52 of his 75 pitches strikes and had kept the wrecking ball away from the main foundation, so that his team could complete its three-game sweep.

"I figured, against these guys, four runs was pretty good," Bell said. "The way the ball was flying around, I figured we'd win."

Indeed, the Angels played Angels' baseball, which once was defined as somebody throwing a four-hitter and Scioscia putting on a bunt sign every time somebody got to third base.

No more. Now, with a few recent exceptions, they are as likely to destroy you as beat you. Howie Kendrick and Gary Matthews Jr. each hit three-run homers, and they hit No. 7 and 8 in the lineup. Playing the Angels is like getting locked in a room with a beehive. You know you are going to get stung, you just don't know where, or how often.

The Angels now have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in Los Angeles, somewhat startling since the team up the 5 Freeway gets the most attention and has the better dreadlocks.

Bell said he hadn't slept for two nights and couldn't explain the feeling of being on the mound for a major league team after years of dreaming such a thing as a youngster.

"But after the first pitch, I was fine," Bell said.

Bell got his shot because, as Scioscia said, he was good enough, plus the team's long list of pitching injuries gave him an opportunity. He was winless in his last five starts in triple-A Salt Lake City, but here he was, about to be fed to the wolves.

Which prompted others to relive their major league debuts.

"It was 1980, against the Houston Astros, in Dodger Stadium, for me," Scioscia said. "You can't explain the feeling. I went out to center field before the game and looked around at all those seats and couldn't imagine they'd be full of people."

Scioscia said he scored his first run on a passed ball, using the occasion, once again, to further the legend of his playing-days foot speed. To this day, that defies description.

The Angels' Reggie Willits, who has been back and forth from triple-A Salt Lake this year and played in several games that Bell pitched, had breakfast with Bell on Wednesday morning and told him to keep doing what he had been doing, which was throwing strikes.

Willits said he remembered his first game as an Angel.

"It was a blowout, and they sent me in to pinch run," he said. "Nothing would have mattered. They weren't going to ask me to steal or anything. But I was scared to death."

He said his first at-bat came weeks later. He was to lead off the game.

"I'm standing at the plate and the pitcher is kind of scuffing around on the mound and I wondered what was going on," he said.

"Finally, the umpire says to me, 'Aren't you going to introduce yourself, so we can play?' "

Mike Butcher, Angels pitching coach, remembered his debut, when he struck out Derek Bell with Dave Winfield and Joe Carter on base.

"I felt like I just floated off the field," Butcher said.

It is likely that Bell had that same feeling at 2:20 p.m., when Scioscia came to the mound, asked for the ball and gave his new for-the-moment No. 5 starter a pat on the back.

Bell walked off toward the Angels dugout, behind which were hundreds of family members and friends. They yelled and screamed and jumped. It was a group seam-bursting.

Bell kept his eyes straight forward. No nod. No tip of the cap. He acted as if he'd been there before, as if he was a major leaguer.

Which, now, he was.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

twitter.com/dwyreLATimes

Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.

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