Notes: Angels coping without Figgins
Third baseman due back soon; Izturis has filled in nicely
ANAHEIM -- Chone Figgins leads all Major League hitters in the second half with a .388 average and is fourth overall in the American League at .335. Bats don't come much hotter than Figgy's, from both sides of the plate.Twice this season, during the opening month and across the past nine games, Figgins has been forced to the bench by hand injuries. He's due back in two or three days, according to manager Mike Scioscia, after taking batting practice on Saturday to test the bone bruise outside his left wrist. In Figgins' absence, the Angels might have missed a beat or two, but they've kept harmonizing -- and winning. Maicer Izturis has more than held his own at third base with his sure, soft hands. "All our bench players are regulars -- they'd be starting for other teams," Figgins said. "Look at the job Maicer has done. He's a player." Izturis, all of 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, has been hitting fifth in the lineup, a spot usually reserved for larger athletes. Scioscia rewards production, and Izzy's .408 average with runners in scoring position along with his 17 RBIs in the past 21 starts have earned the manager's seal of approval. Izturis' hands, strong at the plate and soft in the field, are the product of extensive training to develop his forearms and wrists with a variety of exercises. The training regimen pays dividends with drives to gaps (15 doubles, two triples) and over walls (five homers). "With pitchers who throw hard, I use my hands more than my body, especially on inside fastballs," Izturis said, taking a .385 average during a season-best 10-game hitting streak into Saturday's matinee with the Rangers. "I try not to think too much. Just be loose and go play." That philosophy applies to his defensive approach as well as in the batter's box. "Playing third base," he said, "it's all reaction. It's a little different from shortstop [his natural position]. Sometimes you can knock a ball down with your body and still get an out. At shortstop, you can't do that." He struggled at third last season (.936 fielding percentage in 87 games), but has been rock solid this year with one error in 89 chances for a .989 percentage. He made another big play in the ninth inning of Friday night's 10-inning win over the Rangers, diving to steal a hit from Jason Botts. "The learning curve at third base is tough," Scioscia said. "It's much easier to go from third to the middle infield if you have range. We've seen it with Chone, Izzy, [Erick] Aybar. Izzy's playing at a very high level now, and it's very important to us." Izturis has the team's best fielding percentage at second base (errorless in 132 chances) and at third. That's one error in 221 total chances at two demanding spots. Factoring in his three games at shortstop, Izturis has commited two errors in 233 chances across 591 1/3 innings. Napoli activated: Catcher Mike Napoli returned to active duty on Saturday, and he'll be in a backup role to Jeff Mathis until his right hamstring is fully sound.
"He can catch and hit, but running the bases he's about 80 to 85 percent," Scioscia said. "Mike will get back in there. Right now the dilemma we're dealing with is it might take five, six, seven days before he's 100 percent."Rivera next, Aybar on way: Right-handed power pitchers Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson arrived from Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday to provide bullpen depth for Scioscia. Outfielder Juan Rivera's big day comes on Sunday when he rejoins the Angels after recovering from a broken leg suffered in December. "Juan is a guy who can bring some instant offense to a club," Scioscia said of Rivera, who has 15 RBIs in 14 games at Salt Lake, batting .232. "We'll see how he works in. He's able to play some outfield."
Aybar, out since Aug. 20 with a left hamstring strain, was set to play for Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday and will bring his versatile talents back to the Angels on Tuesday.Santana starts Monday: Ervin Santana will open the series against Oakland on Monday, Scioscia said, with Jered Weaver going Tuesday. Santana has been working with pitching coach Mike Butcher "on getting his hip turned to help him load," Scioscia said.
Dustin Moseley remains in the bullpen after his 5 1/3 innings of shutout work in relief of Santana (one out, five earned runs) in Seattle.On Sept. 1 in Angels history: Carney Lansford matched a club record with three homers in a 7-4 win at Cleveland in 1979.
Up next: John Lackey (16-8, 3.18 ERA) faces southpaw Kason Gabbard (2-1, 3.51) in Sunday's 5:05 p.m. PT series finale at Angel Stadium.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.