Aybar gets chance to bat in two-hole
Young shortstop having impressive year offensively
ANAHEIM -- If there is an Angels player even quieter than Vladimir Guerrero, it would have to be his Dominican Republic countryman, Erick Aybar.
The young shortstop goes about his business, making spectacular plays with the glove, drawing oohs and ahs with his arm and racing like mad around the bases when he hits a ball in a gap or down a line.
With 11 hits in his past 25 at-bats entering Friday, raising his average to .303, Aybar was rewarded by manager Mike Scioscia with a shot at the No. 2 spot in the batting order on Friday night against the Rangers in the opener of a three-game weekend showdown of the American League West's top two clubs.
"The way Erick is swinging, he can set up well in the two-hole," Scioscia said. "There's some growth there. He's quietly having a good year offensively."
This is Aybar's first crack this season at the No. 2 spot. Maicer Izturis (13) and Howard Kendrick (12) have drawn most of the assignments between Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu.
Aybar's .321 on-base percentage is far from ideal for a No. 2 hitter, but it is higher than those of Izturis (.291) and Kendrick (.285). Gary Matthews Jr., with seven starts in the No. 2 spot, has a .312 on-base percentage.
"Erick is making strides," Scioscia said. "Izzy can work counts and has the potential to be a good two-hole hitter."
Kendrick, hitting eighth, has shown dramatically improved plate discipline the last two games, drawing four walks -- actually five, considering he was hit by a pitch on what would have been ball four against Boston. Kendrick had one walk in his first 27 games.
"The way we explain it is there's a presence you have to bring if you're hitting in front of the middle of the order," Scioscia said. "I don't know if Howie was comfortable hitting in the top of the lineup. He did try to change his game [by being more selective], and when it didn't work, he started to press.
"It's not just about walks, it's about getting yourself in hitter's counts. When Howie gets in hitter's counts, he's as good as any hitter in baseball."
If a spot could be found for him in a crowded outfield, Reggie Willits has all the skills of an ideal No. 2 hitter. Given his .397 on-base percentage and 19 walks, tying Figgins for the club lead, Abreu could be the best option in the two-hole, as Scioscia had originally planned, when Guerrero returns.
"For a player to hit in front of your lineup, there has to be that constant drumbeating of getting on base and making things happen," Scioscia said.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.