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Angels are really playing the field

Angels' productive offense has overshadowed a defense that ranks third in the AL. Even first baseman Kendry Morales, who was new to his position, has proven reliable with the glove.

September 28, 2009|Kevin Baxter

In a season of surprises for the Angels, perhaps none has been more welcome than the play of Kendry Morales.

And it isn't just the team-leading 32 homers and 102 runs batted in, which have gone a long way toward making up for the loss of free agent Mark Teixeira to the New York Yankees. The Angels knew Morales could hit.

But no one was sure how well he'd fit in at first base, where Teixeira is a two-time Gold Glove winner.

"The more I improve my defense, the more I can help the team," said Morales, who played primarily in the outfield before defecting from Cuba and signing with the Angels as a 21-year-old. "I feel very good about the way I'm playing."

So do the Angels. Which is why, on a day when Morales drove in three runs, the talk afterward centered on a 3-6-1 double play he started in the third inning, killing an Oakland rally.

"I don't know that we have made bigger plays in the last month than we made today," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We played some defense this afternoon."

But then that's been true for most of the season, with the Angels ranking third in the league in fielding percentage.

"That's been huge for us," said third baseman Chone Figgins. "We've made a lot of athletic plays that a lot of teams can't. And that keeps a lot of teams from getting big innings."

Reading is fundamental

Trevor Bell and Sean O'Sullivan have been asked to make oral book reports in front of the rest of the team this afternoon, part of a penalty imposed by fellow reliever Darren Oliver after the rookies missed a team meeting last month in Cleveland.

But the inspired part of the deal is the book Oliver assigned the pitchers to read -- Marvin Miller's "A Whole Different Ball Game," in which the former executive director of the players' association explains how the union succeeded in improving conditions for major leaguers.

"I never understood that side of baseball. And I always was curious about it," said Bell, who missed the team meeting because he was doing an interview with ESPN. "So to read about Marvin Miller and what he did and the people he influenced and obviously what he's done for baseball is huge."

O'Sullivan, who said the book is the only one he's read this season, also offered a positive review: "I had no idea [about] all the stuff that went into getting us where we are today. So it was very enlightening."

Oliver, whose rookie season in 1994 coincided with baseball's last work stoppage, also assigned rookie pitchers Kevin Jepsen and Rich Thomson to read the book in order to grade the oral reports.

Working in relief

Jepsen's 65 appearances this season -- 51 for the Angels, 14 for triple-A Salt Lake -- mark a career high.

And that increased workload earned him a season-long five-day break last week, albeit with unexpected results.

When Jepsen returned to the mound Saturday against Oakland, he was so rested he had trouble controlling his pitches, giving up a season-high four earned runs while getting only two outs.

"I had no idea where [the ball] was going," said Jepsen, whose fastball was clocked in the high 90s. "It was 2-0, 3-0 to everybody. I was off big time.

"I don't know if you'd call it too strong. Just having those five days without being on the mound in a game, it was almost like I just got out of sync a little bit."

The right-hander rebounded nicely Sunday, striking out two during a scoreless eighth inning in which he topped out at 95 mph


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