SEATTLE — Vladimir Guerrero will begin a three-game minor league rehabilitation assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga tonight, and the Angels slugger is expected to be activated for Monday night's game against the Chicago White Sox in Anaheim.
How Guerrero bounces back from the torn right chest muscle that has sidelined him since April 16 will go a long way toward determining the Angels' fortunes this season.
If Guerrero is anything close to the feared masher who hit at least .300 with 25 home runs or more for 11 consecutive seasons -- Lou Gehrig is the only other player to accomplish that feat -- the Angels could have enough firepower to contend for the pennant.
If Guerrero suffers a physical setback or is not nearly as productive as he has been for five seasons in Anaheim, the Angels will have a tough time winning the American League West, let alone going deep in the playoffs.
One look at how the Angels have performed without Guerrero for much of this season shows why.
They began Thursday night's game ranked 13th in the AL with 30 home runs and 11th in slugging percentage (.410). Though they ranked second with a .281 batting average, they were only 10th in runs (191).
"You can't force slugging percentage," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If you look at what makes an offense go, it's not just slugging percentage, it's hitting with runners in scoring position. For two weeks [in late April and early May] we were terrific and averaged more than six runs a game, and for two weeks [in early April] we were terrible.
"Driving the ball is important to getting back into games, but that inning to inning pressure, getting guys on base and hitting with runners in scoring position, is what we need. We've been streaky. We should be more consistent when we get our lineup together."
Scioscia said General Manager Tony Reagins spoke this week with Bob Watson, baseball's vice president of discipline, rules and on-field operations, and Mike Port, vice president of umpiring, for clarification on rules about warnings and ejections.
Pitcher John Lackey was thrown out of Saturday's game in Texas by umpire Bob Davidson after two pitches, one that went behind the head of Ian Kinsler and one that hit Kinsler in the ribs. No warning was issued after the first pitch.
Lackey said he was "over-amped" in his first start of the season and argued strongly that his pitches to Kinsler weren't intentional.
"They have that discretion [to eject without warning] and they exercised it," Scioscia said. "There are guidelines in place. When you have so many crews, there is always going to be individual interpretations, but the bottom line is controlling the game.
"The umpires might have reacted a little quickly in Texas, but we understand it. They're getting more in tune with understanding intent."
Toe jam baseball
Bobby Abreu's left big toe injury, suffered Wednesday night on a first-inning groundout, is not considered serious, but the Angels outfielder sat out Thursday night's game and does not expect to start this weekend against the Dodgers. It is possible that he could pinch-hit Saturday and Sunday.
"I'm not sure if it happened before I stepped on the base, when I stepped on the base or after I passed it," Abreu said. "I felt a little pinch between my big toe and second toe. It was hard to go 100%."