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Angels are better prepared to play without Kendrys Morales

Shell-shocked by circumstances of injury to their power hitter last season, these Angels appear to have learned a lesson and are carrying on with grit and good chemistry.

May 12, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Kendrys Morales rounds the bases after hitting a walk-off home run against the Seattle Mariners on May 29. Moments later Morales broke his ankle while celebrating with his teammates at home plate.
Kendrys Morales rounds the bases after hitting a walk-off home run against… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

What you see now is what you are going to get from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The symmetry for their 2011 baseball season is now in place, whether they like it or not.

Fittingly, they are in Texas for a three-game weekend series with the Rangers, who came of age in the American League West last season at the expense of the perennial playoff participant Angels. The Rangers went to the World Series and the Angels went home to watch on TV. They hadn't been postseason couch potatoes since 2006.

But they had an excuse for their un-Angels-like 80-82 season. Their power-hitting first baseman, Kendrys Morales, had suffered a season-ending injury.

Nor was it just any injury. It was the kind that understandably could leave a team shell-shocked. There may be no crying in baseball, but even Tom Hanks hadn't seen anything quite like this.

On May 29, Morales cranked a game-winning grand slam, then jumped into the mob of celebrating teammates at home plate and seriously fractured his ankle. Instead of carrying him off in joy, they carried him off on a stretcher and the bizarre nature of the accident appeared to leave the team with a collective deer-in-the-headlights look for awhile. Some think for the rest of the season.

Morales, a strapping 6-foot-1, 230-pound Cuban, was hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in. He was on pace for a 35-home run, 124-RBI season. With Torii Hunter, he provided the kind of mid-batting-order power that brought out fans and won pennants.

When he left the building, the place never seemed to find a new Elvis. Hunter carried on, as best he could and as he always will, batting a satisfactory .281 with 23 home runs. But the supporting cast, and the heart of the Angels, seemed gone.

That, of course, made the return of Morales an ongoing story this season. Manager Mike Scioscia never went through a day, starting with the first arrivals at spring training, without being asked about Morales. All the questions added up to the same thing: When will he be back?

Then, Wednesday night, in a news conference called during the second inning at the Big A, the answer came. Morales will have more surgery on the ankle that refuses to heal and be out at least six months.

Look for the big gun in 2012. Look for semi-little ball from the Angels the rest of this season.

Hunter is still a weapon, although he has started slowly. Newly acquired Vernon Wells may become one, but he hasn't shown that yet and is currently out with a groin injury. Mark Trumbo, Morales' replacement at first base, has muscled out six homers and is cut from that cloth, but is also a rookie with the unknowns of any rookie.

That leaves the Angels with 5-foot-8 Maicer Izturis playing second base and hitting third; gap-hitter Howie Kendrick, a converted second baseman playing left field and often batting fifth, and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet center fielder Peter Bourjos hitting last and bunting and slashing his way to an average hovering near .300.

Bourjos hit a shot down the left field line Wednesday night against the White Sox that was a prototype double. Only Bourjos never even thought about stopping at second, and when he slid into third, he had the throw beaten so badly that he could have tiptoed in.

Scioscia says the Angels were better prepared this year to deal with setbacks.

"Last year, it was a tangible loss with Kendrys," he says. "This year, time is going to tell. Every team has different dynamics. We've had gritty teams here before, and this is one of them. There are a lot of young guys out there, but they are all well past the stage of cutting their teeth. They are no longer scared."

Ace Jared Weaver, part of a much-improved pitching staff that has kept things afloat while the bats shed the winter ice, is most candid about not dismissing last year as out of sight, out of mind.

"There are a lot of guys here who have in the back of their minds what happened last year," he says. "And that we can't let it happen again."

Bobby Abreu, the veteran outfielder, who stuck around to be the designated hitter this year, says he has last year tucked away and likes this team. "Good chemistry," he says. "No selfish guys in here."

So, the expected 2011 version of the Kendrys Morales-powered Angels are now the slash-and-dash, go first-to-third, bunt-for-hits, turn-lots-of-double-plays and power-pitch-'em Angels. If you have your heart set on lots of big bombs at Angels Stadium, come on Friday night for the postgame fireworks show.

Morales may be huge again for the Angels in 2012. But time waits for no one.

As Morales was answering questions about his upcoming surgery in the press box, a big screen TV directly over his shoulder was showing the new first baseman, Trumbo, making a diving stop to save a run and end an inning.

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