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Angels' Mike Scioscia pleased with Hank Conger's performance

The catcher starts for the third consecutive game. Conger at times has been brilliant defensively and is batting .286 as a switch-hitter.

April 16, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Rookie catcher Hank Conger, who seemed destined to return to the minor leagues after spring training, has started the last three games for the Angels.
Rookie catcher Hank Conger, who seemed destined to return to the minor leagues… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )

Reporting from Chicago — Just after noon Saturday catcher Jeff Mathis stepped into Manager Mike Scioscia's office and closed the door. And when he came out a few minutes later he was not happy, firmly declining to talk about what happened.

But Scioscia's lineup, posted just outside his office, spoke volumes. For the third consecutive game Hank Conger was starting behind the plate and the manager was clearly pleased with the rookie's performance so far.

"What we've seen we've definitely liked," Scioscia said. "If he wasn't doing the job defensively, this would be a moot point. But he is and that's giving him an opportunity to get a little more playing time."

Rookie Tyler Chatwood shuts down White Sox in Angels' 7-2 win

At times Conger has been brilliant defensively — he threw out speedster Juan Pierre twice in the last two days — and after going two for four with a home run and a double Saturday, he's batting .286. That's far better than either Mathis (.192) or Bobby Wilson (.143). Another factor working in Conger's favor is the fact he's a switch-hitter, which gives the Angels another left-handed bat in the lineup. (Conger has just one plate appearance from the right side.)

"Right now I've just been trying to make the most of an opportunity," said Conger, who seemed ticketed for a return to the minor leagues coming out of spring training. "One of the biggest things I've been doing is getting a lot of swings when I haven't been playing."

Angels-White Sox box score

Despite his struggles, Mathis figures to start Sunday against Chicago's Mark Buehrle, a lefty, leaving Wilson as the odd man out after an impressive spring.

"Nobody wants to sit on the bench," said Wilson, who is out of options, meaning the Angels risk losing him on waivers if they try to send him to the minors. "If you're happy or content just sitting on the bench, there's something wrong with you. [But] it's never ever going to be about 'oh I hope this guy fails so I can get a chance to succeed.' It's about winning. We're here to win."

Can you top this?

When the Angels were in Tampa earlier this month, Dan Haren watched the end of Jered Weaver's start from the team hotel, then sent his teammate a text message.

"I'm sick of pitching after you," it read.

That's because the two right-handers have a friendly competition in which they try to outdo each other, and Weaver, who ran his record to 4-0 with Friday's win over the White Sox, has once again set the bar high for Haren by becoming the first pitcher in history to win four games by April 14.

"Hopefully I make him better," said Haren, who takes a 3-0 record and 0.73 earned-run average to the mound Sunday. "If I were to push him along just a little bit, that would be great."

That may be happening since Haren pitched a one-hit shutout in his last start, leaving Weaver to gut out seven frigid innings and a rain delay his next time out.

"Once one starter throws the ball well, everyone wants to do that at least through one turn of the rotation," Haren said. "But that said, he's really set the tone in this first four starts, so it's definitely hard to live up to. He's the ace of the staff and he's proved it."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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