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Angels' Torii Hunter trails in early All-Star balloting

Despite being among the AL leaders in hitting, he ranks 10th among outfielders so far.

May 28, 2009|Kevin Baxter

Kelvim Escobar made his second rehab start for the Angels' Class-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga a strong one Wednesday, throwing six shutout innings in which he gave up only an infield single, striking out eight and retiring the final 12 men he faced.

If there are no setbacks, Escobar, who threw 76 pitches, hitting 95 mph on the stadium radar gun, is likely to make one more rehab start, for triple-A Salt Lake, before rejoining the Angels next week.

And that means lean times for the minor leaguers he will leave behind.

Escobar is the third major leaguer to play a rehab game for Rancho Cucamonga this season and tradition says the big leaguers have to spring for the postgame clubhouse spread.

That's means players used to peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches are suddenly eating the ribs and chicken Vladimir Guerrero paid for last week.

Or the $400 P.F. Chang's meal Ervin Santana had catered when he pitched for Rancho earlier this month.

But Jeff Levering, the Quakes' director of broadcasting and media relations, say the visits feed the players' souls as well.

"More than anything else, it gives these guys a chance to see how big leaguers go about their day-to-day routine," he said.

"Minor leaguers get caught up in the lack of pay and the bus trips and don't always focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Guys gravitate to Vlad to ask him hitting questions and huddle around the cage during [batting practice]. I know Escobar talked with a couple of our Latin pitchers about commanding off-speed pitches for strikes and utilizing the defense."

Shields down

Pitching coach Mike Butcher knew something was wrong with Scot Shields when the reliever left the bullpen Tuesday.

"When I could see him kind of jogging into the game, something wasn't the same as it has been," Butcher said.

So shortly after Shields finished his 20th appearance of the season, the Angels put him on the 15-day disabled list because of an injured left knee, complicating things for a bullpen that was already struggling.

"We've been trying to get some things sorted out for a while now," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We need guys down there that will be able to come in and get the key outs at the end of the game and we'll use whatever combination we have down there to get it down."

Shields helped the Angels bridge the gap from their starters to closer Brian Fuentes.

And as long as he's out, Scioscia and Butcher said some relievers figure to see their roles change.

"Somebody's just going to have to step up," reliever Darren Oliver said. "There's going to be some opportunity for some boys."

Early returns

Angel outfielder Torii Hunter, who began Wednesday ranked among the league leaders in RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, trails nine other outfielders in the early balloting for the All-Star team.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter received the most support in the early balloting with 664,630 votes, about 600 more than former Long Beach State star Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, who leads at third base.

No Angel is among the top five vote-getters in the infield or at catcher.

"There are certainly some All-Star candidates on that field that should get recognition," Scioscia said of his team.

"It's tough to argue with what Torii's done."

Fan voting for the All-Star starting lineups concludes July 2. The 80th All-Star Game will be played July 14 in St. Louis.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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