SEATTLE — — Torii Hunter is the envy of most hitters in baseball, batting behind speedy leadoff man Mike Trout, who leads the American League in average, runs and stolen bases, and ahead of slugger Albert Pujols, who has 29 homers and a team-leading 92 runs batted in.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia moved Hunter into the two-hole on June 8. The right fielder responded with three straight three-hit games against Colorado and has been one of the team's most productive hitters since, raising his average from .238 to .308.
Taking advantage of an increased number of fastballs, Hunter is batting .357 (97 for 272) in 64 starts in the second spot. The 14-year veteran who hit fourth and fifth for much of his five-year Angels career has enjoyed a return to his roots, when he was a top-of-the-order hitter for the Minnesota Twins.
"This is more my game," Hunter said. "I still might hit 15-20 homers, but I like to hit and run, bunt, get guys over. I've changed my approach. I'm not swinging too hard. I'm swinging at strikes. I have a different mind-set. It's fun not swinging hard. It's actually helped a lot."
Hunter has 12 homers, 19 doubles and 65 RBIs and has been spraying the ball to all fields lately. He is 13 for 17 in his last four games and had three hits in Saturday's 5-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.
"Torii might be playing the best baseball we've seen in his stay with us right now," Scioscia said. "I think he's rejuvenated hitting in the two-hole. He's getting back to the type of baseball he was weaned on in Minnesota.
"He has a situational look to him. I think he's comfortable with it. I don't think he's feeling the burden of having to break open a game with a three-run homer. I think he's in a great spot."
Hunter, 37, is in the final year of a five-year, $90-million contract and is making a compelling case for the Angels to re-sign him. He plays an excellent right field, he's running well and has shown no signs of regression offensively.
"You might see a 37-year-old, but the genetics in my family are pretty awesome," Hunter said. "But I'm not focusing on my contract. My goal is to get to the postseason, the World Series. Afterwards, if they want to talk, I'm here. I'm not begging. Everyone knows I want to be an Angel."
Scott Downs declined to discuss the family emergency that caused him to miss four games last week, but the reliever said the issue involved one of his three children and is "resolved for the most part." Downs was activated Saturday.
"It was something I needed to take care of, and I did," Downs said. "Everything is going back in the right direction. I've been a little sidetracked, but it should be a lot easier to focus on my job."
Hard-throwing minor league left-handers Nick Maronde and Andrew Taylor joined the team as September call-ups Saturday, as did catcher John Hester and infielder Andrew Romine. Catcher Hank Conger and outfielder Peter Bourjos will join the club after the triple-A season ends Monday.