Angels catcher Hank Conger was sent to the team's triple-A affiliate… (Kelvin Kuo / U.S. Presswire )
As much as Tuesday's demotion to triple-A Salt Lake stung, rookie catcher Hank Conger, who is mired in a two-month-long offensive and defensive funk, understood the move.
"I was able help the team and earn some playing time, and now it seems like it's the other way around — I'm regressing and losing playing time," Conger, 23, said.
"It was a little hard to swallow, but looking at the big picture, I've got to go down and get some work in. … Ultimately, you have to do what's best for the team."
Conger, a first-round pick out of Huntington Beach High in 2006, was sent down to clear a roster spot for pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who started Tuesday night.
Jeff Mathis will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, with Bobby Wilson assuming a more prominent backup role, leaving the Angels in capable defensive hands but with less offensive punch. Mathis is hitting .194 with two home runs and 12 runs batted in; Wilson is hitting .235 with no homers and three RBIs.
Conger, who started 42 games, hit .214 with five homers and 16 RBIs, a 12-for-77 slide since May 20 dropping his average from .273.
Opponents have been successful on 48 of 56 stolen-base attempts against Conger, whose mechanical difficulties led to many throws tailing away from or bouncing in front of second base.
"Obviously, the throwing and the transfer need to be addressed," Conger said. "One of the positives from the hitting end is I haven't felt overmatched. I felt like I was putting up good at-bats."
The demotion isn't a sign the Angels have soured on him.
"No doubt, his upside is as an everyday catcher," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But it's tough to learn on the fly in the major leagues."
A lack of in-house bullpen options could intensify the Angels' pursuit of a reliever before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Kevin Jepsen, the team's primary setup man in 2009, was put on the Salt Lake disabled list over the weekend because of a sprained right knee.
Had Jepsen regained his 2009 form, he would have been a strong candidate for a promotion, but the right-hander returned to Southern California to be examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum, and it's unclear how long he'll be out.
Setup man Fernando Rodney, out since June 9 because of an upper-back strain, will make another rehabilitation appearance with Class-A Inland Empire on Wednesday and could be activated Friday.
The trade market is busting with relievers. Among the possible targets are San Diego's Heath Bell and Mike Adams, Washington's Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, Baltimore's Koji Uehara, Florida's Leo Nunez and Seattle's Brandon League.
However, several other contenders are also looking for relief, which could drive up prices. The Angels, with a shortage of high-end, major league-close prospects — excluding Mike Trout, who is considered untouchable — may not be able to outbid many teams.
Center fielder Peter Bourjos did agility drills and ran short sprints at about 60% Tuesday and felt no discomfort in his strained right hamstring. He hopes to come off the disabled list Saturday. … With tough right-hander Alexi Ogando starting for Texas on Tuesday, Trout, the 19-year-old center fielder who hit .125 (three for 24) in his first seven games, was not in the lineup. "This is for today," Scioscia said. "We'll see where we are [Wednesday]."