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Peter Bourjos finds comfort zone in Angels' 6-3 win

Three-run homer from center fielder called up last month helps Angels beat Tampa Bay and improves his case for showing he can contribute more than defense and speed.

September 19, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

— Peter Bourjos stood before a wooden table in the Angels clubhouse trying to make a selection from an impressive display of candy bars and other sweets.

It wasn't the first time the speedy center fielder has been overwhelmed by the big leagues since his call-up from the Pacific Coast League last month.

"They have some candy [there], but nothing like that," Bourjos said. "Meal money's better, plane trips are better, stadiums, everything. You name it."

OK, how about pitching?

"Yeah … the pitching's a little better," he said. "They know how to exploit you. They make their pitches."

On Sunday, Bourjos showed he may be learning to handle those pitches, belting a long three-run home run to help the Angels to a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

"There's a huge upgrade from PCL pitching to the major leagues," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "And that's what these guys have to get acclimated to."

Sure it was just one swing, and one swing doesn't make a career — especially when you're hitting .195. But it was good enough to give the Angels their seventh win in 10 games, allowing them to win a season series at Tropicana Field for the first time since 2006. And it came at the end of an impressive nine-pitch at-bat, one in which Bourjos fouled off three full-count pitches before driving the ball so far over the left-field wall Tampa outfielder Carl Crawford didn't bother to move.

Then, two at-bats later, Bourjos was robbed of another extra-base hit and at least two more runs batted in by Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist.

"I'm a lot more comfortable than I was when I first got here," he said. "It's kind of a learning process."

One thing he says he's learned is to try not to make the job more complicated than it is.

"You've just got to try to hit a line drive and stay simple," he said. "If I can execute my approach, I think it's going to work out and I'm going to end up getting a lot of hits."

There's never been a question about defense with Bourjos, who also made a pair of splendid running catches Sunday. Defense, after all, is why they called him up in the first place, moving nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter to right field to make room for him. It's also why the Angels will head into their winter makeover with Bourjos penciled in as their opening day center fielder next year.

If he continues to improve at the plate, maybe they'll write his name in with a pen.

"You're seeing the quality of at-bats that Peter's giving improve as he's getting some experience here," Scioscia said. "That's progress you can kind of gauge and project. He's certainly making the most of his playing time and his experience, and it's making him a better player."

Franchise player

Speaking of looking ahead to next season, Tampa's Crawford, already at the top of the Angels' free-agent shopping list, gave a good audition in his last meeting with the team this season by collecting three hits, giving him six for the three-game series.

The Angels have received little production from the top of their order this season with leadoff hitters combining to hit just .265 with 19 stolen bases. Crawford, batting .306, is a .296 lifetime hitter who has averaged 54 steals in nine seasons. He would also give the Angels a defensive upgrade in left field.

"I'm not going to really speak on Crawford," Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said. "But there's going to be media speculation, fan speculation, speculation around the league about what we're going to try to accomplish in the off-season."

Short hops

Bobby Abreu's two homers Sunday gave him 20 for the season, just the second time in five seasons he's hit that many…. Hard-throwing Jordan Walden, who may be the Angels' closer of the future, got the final out to earn his first big league save.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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