CLEVELAND -- Having endured seven Minor League seasons before finally making his breakthrough into the big time, Matt Palmer was determined to do everything in his power to continue to compete against the best, in the lap of luxury hotels, and avoid those long, mind-numbing bus rides.
Palmer pushed the envelope as far as it would go this season before conceding that he had nothing left to give in his right arm -- and even then it was the Angels' training staff that shut down the 31-year-old pitcher from the "Show Me" state of Missouri.
"I started to feel it about halfway through Spring Training," Palmer said, referring to the acute sprain of the right sternoclavicular joint. "In the second week of the season, I knew it was a problem. I can throw through pain -- to the point that it locked up on me. There was no sense pushing it. We've got a good training staff here, and they told me I needed to go on the shelf.
"I didn't pick up a ball for a month. It was hurt a lot more than I thought."
A versatile and valuable contributor both as a starter and reliever in 2009, Palmer went 11-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 121 1/3 innings. Nobody wore a Major League uniform more proudly or performed his role with more diligence, qualities that did not escape the notice of manager Mike Scioscia.
"This guy did everything we could have asked of him last year," Scioscia said. "Matty Palmer is the kind of guy you love to have on your ballclub."
With life back in his arm, Palmer returned to the Angels on Sept. 6 after delivering a 2.72 ERA in 13 appearances for Salt Lake in the hitters' paradise known as the Pacific Coast League. His work since rejoining Scioscia's staff -- five innings, no runs allowed -- underscores how much he was missed. Trying to pitch through the pain, he was knocked around for a 6.26 ERA in 23 innings before going to the DL.
"I went through some adversity and challenged myself," Palmer said. "I think I'm a better pitcher for that. It's like with our team. It's the first time in a long time it's faced adversity. This is a great team, with great people and a great coaching staff. I'm confident the team will respond to this adversity and come back strong."
Aybar a late scratch for Halos on Thursday
CLEVELAND -- Shortstop Erick Aybar, one of the Angels' most durable players this season, was a late scratch on Thursday night against the Indians with what was described as a left leg strain.
Brandon Wood replaced Aybar at shortstop, making his 11th start of the season at his original position to go with his 44 starts at third base.
Aybar's 129 starts at shortstop are the most among Angels at one position. Torii Hunter has made 131 starts in the outfield, 97 in center and 34 in right.
Aybar has been mired in a slump, batting .136 this month. His .312 average last season was the best ever by an Angels shortstop, but he is batting only .254 this season with a .306 on-base percentage. He's tied with Bobby Abreu for the club lead in steals, with 20.
Second-half success not new to Matsui
CLEVELAND -- Hideki Matsui said that he enjoyed playing in warm weather when he joined the Angels, and he wasn't kidding.
The man from Japan has found his comfort level and stroke in the second half, driving his way back into the cleanup spot. Since Aug. 14 and heading into Thursday night's assignment against the Indians at damp Progressive Field, the Angels' primary designated hitter has been a .403 hitter, with seven doubles, one triple, five homers and 20 RBIs in 77 at-bats.
Since the All-Star break, Matsui has raised his production numbers significantly across the board. His batting average has soared from .252 at the break to .309 in the second half, his slugging mark from .398 to .564, and his on-base percentage from .334 to .409.
Over his career, taking in his six seasons in the Bronx with the Yankees, Matsui has been a consistent threat with virtually identical numbers before and after the break: .289 BA in the first half, .290 in the second; .473 slugging in the first, .486 slugging in the second; .369 on-base mark in both halves.
Matsui's triple off the wall on Wednesday night, his first as an Angel, was his 12th in his seven Major League seasons. Manager Mike Scioscia, who thought Matsui should have been awarded a triple on a drive that was ruled an error in Minnesota, was impressed with the way he motored around the bases.
"I think he's running as well as he has in a couple years," Scioscia said. "He's running with more confidence. He's running well."
Matsui stole four bases for the Yankees in 2007 but has had no thefts since then. He had a career-high nine steals without being thrown out in 1997 with the Yomiuri Giants.
Trumbo to play outfield this winter
CLEVELAND -- Looking to expand his horizons, premium position prospect Mark Trumbo will head to Venezuela this winter to gain more experience playing the corner outfield positions.
Trumbo, who led the Minor Leagues with his 36 home runs this season for Salt Lake, also led the Pacific Coast League with 122 RBIs and 103 runs scored. He batted .351 in the second half to finish at .301, continuing his upward trend. He batted .272 at Cedar Rapids in 2007, his third pro season, then .283 at Rancho Cucamonga and .276 at Arkansas in 2008, and .291 at Arkansas in '09.
Primarily a first baseman since leaving the mound (and his mid-90s fastball) upon signing with the Angels out of Villa Park (Calif.) High School in 2004, Trumbo wisely volunteered to play the outfield in 2008. The Angels had Mark Teixeira at first, with Kendry Morales in support.
"I played some outfield in high school," Trumbo said. "Last year I got in 10 games in the outfield and 20 this year. I'm a work in progress, but I feel really good out there. I've been working with [outfield coach Ron Roenicke] since I came up, and I'm looking forward to playing left and right in Venezuela. That's two more positions for me."
With Morales expected back at full strength next season, Trumbo, 24, could enhance his appeal as a multi-position player with the hope of muscling his way into a full-time role.
Enhancing his Cy Young Award qualifications with his seven near-perfect innings against the Indians, Jered Weaver took the Major League strikeout lead, with 218; moved to second in the AL in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings), at 1.05; to fifth in ERA (2.96); and to fourth in innings pitched (204). ... Torii Hunter went into Thursday night's series finale sorry to see the Indians go. He's batting .452 against the Tribe with five doubles, three homers and seven RBIs. His 25 career homers against Cleveland are his second most against any club. ... After enduring a lengthy RBI drought (eight in 41 games), Hunter has come alive with 10 RBIs in 10 games. He's batting .332 on the road but only .248 at home. ... Reggie Willits got the start in center field on Thursday with Kevin Frandsen at second base, and Peter Bourjos getting the night off. ... Bourjos, who has started 31 of 33 games in center field since his Aug. 3 promotion from Salt Lake, is set to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Unlike good buddy Mark Trumbo, who is going to Venezuela to work on his defense in left and right field, Bourjos' focus will be on enhancing his offense. He's batting .198 after hitting .314 at Salt Lake. Appearing in just 34 games, Bourjos is tied for fifth in the AL with nine outfield assists. His range calls to mind the classic line about a swift center fielder from an earlier generation: "Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, and the other third is covered by Garry Maddox."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.