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ANGELS FYI

Reggie Willits' late-inning success puts him high on Mike Scioscia's list

Whether as a pinch-runner, defensive replacement or bunter, he is likely to make the roster for the division series.

September 29, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

Reggie Willits has only 69 at-bats in 43 games for the Angels, having shuttled between triple-A Salt Lake and Anaheim all season, but when Manager Mike Scioscia submits his playoff roster for the American League division series, you can bet Willits will be on it.

Willits is a valuable pinch-runner, he can enter as a late-game defensive replacement for corner outfielders Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, and it seems he can fall out of bed and drop a sacrifice bunt.

Those are important elements to winning games in October, and with the Angels likely to carry 10 pitchers in the first round, they can easily fit Willits into their postseason plans.

The reserve outfielder sacrificed the eventual winning run to second base in the ninth inning of a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park on Sept. 17.

Willits bunted a runner over in the 10th inning of a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 12. And he sacrificed the eventual winning run to second in the 10th inning of a 3-2 win over Seattle on Sept. 8.

Willits' success is no accident. From the second through fourth innings at home, he is in the batting cage, practicing his bunting. He's constantly watching video of opposing setup men and closers, the pitchers he is likely going to be facing.

"It's a tough role, but it's something you have to have a lot of confidence in, because you're coming in late in the game, and if runners are on first and second, you have to read the bunt defense," Willits said.

"A lot of times you'll go a week or so without live pitching, so you try to get it down on the first pitch or as early as possible. You really have to prepare yourself. You're going to be seeing some velocity in pressure situations, so you really have to slow the game down as much as possible."

The envelope please . . .

First baseman Kendry Morales entered Monday with a .303 average and a team-leading 32 homers, 102 runs batted in and a .561 slugging percentage.

But when put on the spot, Scioscia chose right fielder Abreu as the team's most valuable player this season.

Abreu entered Monday with a .292 average, 92 runs, 14 homers, 28 doubles, 94 walks, 100 RBIs and 29 stolen bases, but he has tailed off since earning AL player of the month honors in July, when he hit .380 with 28 RBIs in 26 games.

Abreu hit .217 with four homers and 14 RBIs in August, and he's batting .262 with two homers and 14 RBIs in September.

But Scioscia chose Abreu for his influence on the entire lineup -- the plate-discipline guru has had a positive influence on players such as Morales, Erick Aybar, Rivera and Maicer Izturis.

"He's brought a special need for our club, a guy with 100 RBIs, 92 runs, all the walks, and he's hit in different spots in the lineup.

"Outside of Chone Figgins, we didn't have a lot of guys working counts. Bobby has brought that. He's a swing guy, a guy who can set the table and drive in a lot of runs."

Catching bug

Entering Monday, Jeff Mathis had caught 89 of the 128 2/3 innings Ervin Santana has thrown this season, and Mike Napoli had caught Santana for only 25 innings.

But Napoli, who sat out several games because of flu symptoms last week, was behind the plate against the Rangers on Monday night.

Mathis has had strep throat for several days and probably won't be available to catch for at least another day or two.

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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