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New Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard debuts

May 16, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Angels first baseman Albert Pujols stretches before taking part in batting practice before a game against Texas on Friday.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols stretches before taking part in batting… (Richard W. Rodriguez / MCT )

When Peter Bourjos was in triple-A Salt Lake two years ago, hitting coach Jim Eppard emphasized one of the principles of his teaching: Have a plan, and stick to it.

For Bourjos, it was look for the outside fastball and drive it to right-center field.

Bourjos finished with a record 60 hits that July and was summoned Aug. 3 to the major leagues, where he remains.

Eppard joined his former student Wednesday, replacing Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who was fired Tuesday after the team had sputtered to a 16-21 start while being shut out eight times, worst in the big leagues.

"He doesn't dwell on mechanics," Bourjos said of Eppard, a former Angel who spent the last 10 seasons as Salt Lake hitting coach. "It's having a plan, executing by not deviating from your plan. When you're at this level, your swing is your swing. If you have confidence in your approach, you'll have success. [Eppard] simplifies your plan, he keeps it easy."

The Angels, starting with slugger Albert Pujols (one home run), thus far have made hitting appear highly complex, ranking 12th in the American League in runs scored.

That's highly disappointing, given the investment in Pujols, and this year's contract extensions that went to second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar, who has dropped from the leadoff spot to No. 8 in the batting order by batting .187.

"Mickey brought energy, he worked his [rear] off, it's tough to see him go," Bourjos said. "I could never beat him to the field. ... I think everyone feels bad. We always put it on ourselves."

Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto decided to fire Hatcher before Tuesday's 4-0 victory over the Oakland A's, and Dipoto and Angels Manager Mike Scioscia -- a former Dodgers teammate and longtime advocate of Hatcher -- informed Hatcher of his firing after the game.

Scioscia stopped far short of saying he endorsed Hatcher's firing, after late last month saying he was confident Hatcher was the right man to guide the Angels through their struggles on offense.

"Mickey was a great teacher and great hitting coach," Scioscia said. "We all respect what the general manager's office is looking out for ... we were not in a funk because of Mickey Hatcher. We respect the decision, and go on."

Said Angels outfielder Vernon Wells of Dipoto's breaking the Scioscia-Hatcher bond: "Not everything in this game is going to make you happy. ... It's a tough day. It's gotta be difficult [on Scioscia]."

Eppard comes to Anaheim possessing what he called "a mental tape" of players such as Bourjos, slugger Mark Trumbo, leadoff hitter Mike Trout, Kendrick and others he helped in Salt Lake.

"The important thing is getting back to basics, hitting a good pitch, going after it," Eppard said.

Eppard said he respects Pujols so much that "I ask Albert a lot of questions. I'm constantly trying to learn myself." Eppard added that sorting out the slugger's missing power will "be a topic for down the road."

Shortly after, Scioscia interrupted Eppard's introductory news conference and told him, "You've got guys waiting for you" in the clubhouse.

Trumbo, who hit 36 home runs with Eppard in Salt Lake in 2010, said the new coach "really understands the struggles of going through a season -- he was a fantastic hitter himself."

Trumbo said he refined his strike zone under Eppard and incorporated "little antidotes that can make a difference."

Now, Trumbo said, "It's up to us as players to get it done.

"It seems like the fans have been calling for [Hatcher's firing] for a long time. You can call for a guy's head for years on end, but unless you're seeing the effort the man [Hatcher] puts in day in and day out ... " 


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