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ANGELS FYI

Angels hitters learn the virtues of patience

Taking cues from hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and veterans such as Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter, Angels are making plate discipline work to their advantage.

July 07, 2009|Jim Peltz

As the Angels reached the halfway point of the season Monday, the club had five .300 hitters in its starting lineup and led the major leagues with a team batting average of .280.

The explanation? Mainly a renewed emphasis on having the hitters show more discipline at the plate.

"It's something we started in spring training," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said before Monday's game against Texas. "We really emphasized having better at-bats. All these guys took it from spring training into the season."

To be sure, the Angels still have free swingers such as Vladimir Guerrero.

But many of the younger players have learned better discipline from the likes of Bobby Abreu, who came to the Angels this year from the New York Yankees, and Mark Teixeira, who moved to the Yankees from the Angels, Hatcher said.

"They are good hitters, they're willing to see strikes, take pitches, make a pitcher work, get deep in counts," he said.

Abreu was one of the five .300 hitters entering Monday's game. The others were Chone Figgins, Torii Hunter, Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis.

"Abreu, he's fun to watch," Hatcher said. "He makes that pitcher throw five, six, seven pitches so he sees every pitch."

Hatcher, the former big league player now in his 10th season as the Angels' hitting coach, said the team's improved batting isn't simply a matter of laying off the first pitch or first strike.

"We're not saying don't swing at the first pitch" every time, he said. "All we want them to do is get the pitch they can hit and focus on that."

Hatcher also enlists his veterans' help.

"Abreu and Torii Hunter, I always told them, I want you talking to the young guys" about being disciplined hitters, Hatcher said. "It's important it comes from players too."

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Saunders' slump

It's been rough sledding for starting pitcher Joe Saunders in his last two outings.

The left-hander gave up six runs and seven hits Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, and in his previous start against the Rangers in Texas, he was rocked for eight runs and six hits with five walks in 3 2/3 innings.

He has now surrendered 20 home runs, tops in the American League, after giving up 21 in 2008. He's 8-5 this season with an earned-run average of 4.44.

Saunders, 28, said his main problems have been falling behind in counts and getting pitches up.

"The way to not give up home runs is get ahead of hitters, to get them in defensive hitting modes and to get them off-balance," he said. "I haven't been doing that lately and they've been making me pay."

"There's nothing in his game plan that's affecting where Joe is right now," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's really just being able to make a pitch and do what he wants to do out there on the mound. He needs to get better."

That also means Saunders is having trouble throwing inside to hitters so they don't get too comfortable at the plate.

"If you don't have command, it's tough to force it in there on bad counts, because you're just asking for trouble if you miss by a little bit," Scioscia said. "Part of his struggle has been his inability to execute that pitch."

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Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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ANGELS TONIGHT

VS. TEXAS

When: 7.

Where: Angel Stadium.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 980, 1330.

Pitchers: John Lackey vs. Dustin Nippert.

Update: Lackey, who has won two of his last three decisions, faces the Rangers needing one strikeout to tie Mark Langston for fifth on the Angels' all-time list. Lackey scattered four hits over eight innings Thursday in the Angels' 5-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Nippert, meanwhile, will make his first major league appearance this season after being on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle. His lone start against the Angels last year came in a 3-1 loss on Aug. 29 at Angel Stadium.

-- Jim Peltz

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