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ANGELS FYI

Hank Conger not ready to catch for Angels

Team could use some batting help, but Conger needs more seasoning behind the plate.

August 16, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Catcher Hank Conger was sent to triple-A Salt Lake in July due to a slipping batting average and struggles throwing from the plate.
Catcher Hank Conger was sent to triple-A Salt Lake in July due to a slipping… (Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire )

The Angels entered Tuesday hitting a major league-low .220 since the All-Star break, and their catchers combined for a major league-worst .198 average and .569 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), which ranked 28th out of 30 teams.

Jeff Mathis is a solid defensive catcher who draws rave reviews from pitchers Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, but he's almost the equivalent of a pitcher in a National League lineup; he entered Tuesday with a .180 average, two homers and 17 runs batted in.

Bobby Wilson has played in only 36 games, and while adequate behind the plate, he's not a huge threat at the plate; he's hitting .185 with four RBIs.

Help would seem to be a phone call away. Since being demoted to triple-A Salt Lake on July 19, Hank Conger is hitting .309 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 26 games.

But Manager Mike Scioscia, the former Dodgers catcher, places far more emphasis on defense than offense for his catchers, and until Conger improves, the 23-year-old will not be the starter in Anaheim. The reports from Salt Lake are just OK.

"His throwing has been inconsistent," Scioscia said. "He's made some sensational throws, and some where his timing is off. His receiving is better. When he's doing things proficient enough behind the plate, you'll see him here."

Conger, a first-round pick in 2006, has the potential to be a dynamic two-way catcher, and he showed some pop with five homers and 16 RBIs in 50 games with the Angels this season.

But his average slipped to .214 in July, and so many of his throws were bouncing in front of second or tailing away from the bag that the Angels sent him to Salt Lake for more seasoning.

"Some things got away from Hank defensively, and he struggled offensively," Scioscia said. "He had barely caught 200 games as a professional. He needed repetition, experience. He has the tools to be a good defensive catcher. He needs to let his game evolve."

Rotation-bound

Joel Pineiro made a mechanical adjustment, shortening his stride to the plate, but his biggest adjustment was between the ears.

When he entered Monday night's game in the seventh inning, "the only thing I told myself was to be aggressive, to throw every pitch like it was my last one," Pineiro said.

Pineiro struck out the side — Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli — in order, all swinging, en route to a three-inning scoreless stint that helped him reclaim his spot in the rotation.

Rookie Garrett Richards, who left Monday's game in the first inning because of a right groin strain, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, and Pineiro, demoted to the bullpen in early August, will start Saturday.

Pineiro, a sinkerball specialist, has only 138 strikeouts in 263 2/3 innings in two seasons in Anaheim. Asked if he remembered the last time he struck out the side in order, Pineiro said, "I don't know, maybe 2004?"

Actually, it was Sept. 12, 2008. Pineiro, with St. Louis, struck out Pittsburgh's Andy LaRoche, Raul Chavez and Brian Bixler. The only other time Pineiro struck out the side in order was in 2001, when he pitched for Seattle.

Cron to have surgery

Top Angels draft pick C.J. Cron, who dislocated his right kneecap on a swing while playing for rookie-league Orem on Aug. 7, will undergo surgery this week to repair ligament damage in the knee, Angels director of player development Abe Flores confirmed Tuesday night.

Cron, the 17th pick in the June draft, led the Pioneer League with 13 homers and 41 RBIs. No timetable has been set for his recovery, but the first baseman was already playing with a right shoulder tear that may also need surgery.

Short hops

The Angels bolstered their pitching staff by recalling right-hander Trevor Bell and left-hander Horacio Ramirez from Salt Lake. Infielder Andrew Romine was sent back to triple A.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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