Angels counting on two-strike approach to maintain offense

The Angels will face another Mariners right-hander on Opening Day, Felix Hernandez. Will the middle of the Angels’ lineup look the same come April 6?“There is a lot of flexibility,” Scioscia said, playing his cards typically close to his vest.While short on specifics, Scioscia had a general suggestion for his middle-of-the-order hitters coming into camp: Put the ball in play more with two strikes.The Angels struck out 40.7 percent of the time on two-strike counts last year. Only four American League teams were worse in that regard. Scioscia elevated the club’s two-strike approach to a point of emphasis coming into camp, as he has in the past with turning double plays and making relay throws to the infield. “If you talk about the whole situational package, it’s been re-emphasized this year because we think that the talent we have really needs to be in tune with that,” Scioscia said. “Last year we really had a great year in the batter’s box. This year we intend to have a great offensive year combining the situational hitting component with the talent that we have.”In other words, Hamilton was a slugger. Joyce, Freese and Aybar — who hit 26 home runs last year combined — are not.In order to maintain the offensive production that carried the Angels to 98 wins last year, there will need to be an additional degree of creativity. Runners will be moving with two strikes. The ball needs to be put in play. This is nothing new for the Angels, of course. It’s an organizational tenet. “From the minors to the bigs, (the two-strike approach) is something that was emphasized throughout my career,” Efren Navarro said. “I really like to work the counts. A lot of my at-bats are 3-2. It doesn’t matter what count I’m in. Being 0-2, the main focus for me is staying up the middle and not trying to do too much. It’s just emphasized for my part.”Navarro only struck out on 29.0 percent of his two-strike counts last year. Only Aybar (24.8 percent) and Albert Pujols (23.4) had a lower rate.Cron led Angels regulars with a .231 batting average with two strikes last year; he struck out 45.5 percent of the time. That’s still high, but less than Hamilton (54.5).Two players who did not come up in the Angels organization — Joyce (40.7 strikeout percentage) and Freese (44.4) — struggled mightily to put the ball in play with two strikes in 2014.“The two-strike approach is very tricky,” Joyce said. “Sometimes when you try to change things, you can get yourself into more trouble.”Clearly the Angels believe that putting the ball in play with two strikes is teachable, and Joyce has seen it done before. He pointed to James Loney, the former Dodgers first baseman who played with Joyce in Tampa Bay last year. Loney had a .240 batting average with two strikes.It’s an easily overlooked statistic, but one the Angels will be looking at closely in 2015.“I’m just trying to make solid contact and take what he gives me. That’s it,” Joyce said. “Stay in the strike zone and take what they give you. It’s a lot easier said than done. You’re not always going to be successful.”AlsoThe Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks played Monday for the first time since four batters were hit by pitches, and four were ejected, during a Cactus League game March 23. “I think (the umpires) were a little concerned about this game,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. Mattingly and Chip Hale had an extended meeting at home plate with the umpire crew while exchanging lineup cards. … Two Diamondbacks batters, Tuffy Gosewich and Yasmany Tomas, were hit by pitches. … More than 1,400 players, coaches and managers from the 30 MLB Clubs pledged a record donation of $2,643,195 to the Baseball Assistance Team charity during BAT’s spring fundraising tour. … The Dodgers committed more money collectively than any National League team. The Dodgers’ payroll, in excess of $250 million, is the highest in baseball history. TEMPE, Ariz. >> The Angels scored more runs than any major league team in 2014. That’s one reason why general manager Jerry Dipoto felt comfortable trading second baseman Howie Kendrick, who finished the year as the team’s cleanup hitter, to the Dodgers for pitcher Andrew Heaney.But the trade came with a cost. One of the Angels’ top challenges in spring training was to find an adequate middle-of-the-order replacement for Kendrick and outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose future is clouded by a shoulder injury and possible drug suspension.Monday marked seven days until the regular season begins. In a sense, the Angels are no closer to replacing Kendrick and Hamilton’s pop than they were when spring training began. Matt Joyce, David Freese, Erick Aybar and C.J. Cron occupied the fourth through seventh spots in the batting order Monday against Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker — not unlike the lineups Mike Scioscia has written since Cactus League play began. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *