Notes: Willits returning to early form
Angels outfielder went through rough patch after injury
OAKLAND -- He's young and trying to make an impression, which makes the decision perfectly understandable. When he's an established Major League performer, Reggie Willits might take a different course of action, give his body a little more time to heal."Looking back on it, I might have come back a little too quick," he said, referring to a right knee contusion resulting from a collision with an Angel Stadium wall on June 25 against Kansas City. "I was taking some pain medication before the All-Star break, and it made me a little light-headed. "It's kind of like what Casey [Kotchman] went through when he got hit in the head [with a throw from Dodgers catcher Russell Martin on June 16]. I'm sure his situation was worse than mine. It makes you feel a little woozy. I could tell I wasn't as fast, my running speed. My comfort level on the field wasn't quite the same." He missed three games in Baltimore, returning in Texas on July 3 and hitting .231 for the month after batting .342 in June, .330 in May and .345 in April. One of the season's surprise success stories, Willits insisted he wasn't "making any excuses" for a dip in production that dropped his average from .337 at the time of the injury to .302 on Sunday, as manager Mike Scioscia rested him against A's ace Dan Haren. "You're probably going to have a month like that no matter what," Willits said. "It's usually an injury that puts you into it. It disrupts your timing a little bit. "If I can go out and play, I'm going to do it, even if I'm limping a bit. That's how I've always been and am going to be. If I feel like I'm hurting the team, I'm not going to do it." The All-Star break came at an ideal time for the Angels' Rookie of the Year candidate, enabling him to relax with his family.
"The break helped me a lot physically," he said, having hit .300 on the current road trip. "I'm back to where I was before."Any time you're going through a rut like that, your confidence isn't as high as it normally is. I was trying to stay as positive as I could, work as hard as I could. I knew I was in it, and it's something I've gone through before -- just not at this level. "My approach is the same every at-bat. The only thing that's going to change my approach is if guys are in scoring position. I have to focus on keeping myself in a good hitting position, not letting my front side pull a little bit. Baseball is confidence; confidence can make up for a lot of things." Aybar close: Infielder Erick Aybar, testing his right wrist after July 5 surgery, played four innings of a rainout for Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday. He'll be evaluated after playing on Sunday with a possible return to the Angels on Monday for the first of three games with Boston in Anaheim. "He's at a stage where we'll be able to evaluate him more, see where he is," Scioscia said. "Erick's an important part of our club with his versatility, and he's had some big hits for us." Second baseman Howie Kendrick was cleared to start playing catch in his recovery from a fracture in his left index finger. Catcher Mike Napoli isn't eligible to return from his right hamstring injury before the end of a homestand next Sunday. Bootcheck impressive: Lost in the disappointment of Saturday's 2-1 loss to the A's was a superb inning of relief by Chris Bootcheck, who struck out Nick Swisher, Jack Cust and Mike Piazza -- the heart of the order -- in the eighth in relief of Kelvim Escobar. "I've been getting more regular work, and that's helped," Bootcheck said. "I feel better when I get out there and pitch." The 6-foot-5 right-hander hasn't given up an earned run in his past four appearances across 5 1/3 innings, striking out six while walking one and yielding three hits. "Boot's got good stuff," Scioscia said. "The more he gets out there on a regular basis, the better his command. When you go out there, you have to be confident. He's been throwing very well." Minor sensations: Playing right field, Jordan Renz continued to swing a powerful bat for Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday, collecting eight total bases with a homer and two doubles in a 12-3 rout of Stockton. Third baseman Larry Infante also homered and singled twice, driving in five runs. Renz has a team-high 20 homers and his 58 RBIs trail shortstop Hainley Statia by one. Renz's stock will rise when he makes more consistent contact. He has 127 strikeouts in 351 at-bats and a .242 average. On Aug. 5 in Angels history: In 1964, Dean Chance produced one of his six 1-0 wins on a staff that authored a club-record 28 shutouts. Up next: Jered Weaver (7-5, 4.00) faces Boston's Curt Schilling (6-4, 4.20) in Monday's opener of a three-game series at Angel Stadium at 7:05 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.