ANAHEIM -- Torii Hunter returned to the Angels' lineup Monday against Detroit. The right fielder missed starts in the team's last two games after leaving Friday's game with a contusion in his left hand, which was struck by a pitch from Dodgers righty Hiroki Kuroda.Hunter assumed the two-spot in manager Mike Scioscia's order, a place Scioscia said he intends on keeping Hunter for the foreseeable future.
Hunter was just 5-for-37 (.135) out of the two-hole entering Monday, but the nine-time Gold Glover went deep in the first inning.
Scioscia's main objective in his construction of the lineup is keeping Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells -- hitting in the No. 2, 3, and 4 spots Monday -- connected."I think those guys are certainly guys who take a lot on their shoulders. They're all professional hitters, and I do think having them connected is something that we're going to go with now," Scioscia said. "Not only the experience factor, but the fact that when these guys get into their game, they're very, very good. I think it gives us the best chance to let them move forward and get into their game." Aside from the past two games and all three contests in the previous weekend's chapter of the Freeway Series, Hunter had started virtually every game for the Angels. He began Opening Day in the club's No. 4 spot almost as a product of necessity because of Kendrys Morales' absence. "He realizes he's not your prototypical cleanup hitter," Scioscia said. "But he's a very very productive hitter, and you want to continue to set the table for him."
Branyan finally breaks through
ANAHEIM -- Russell Branyan has had his fair share of home runs in his career -- 191 to be exact. His latest, a go-ahead two-run shot in Sunday's 3-1 Angels win against the Dodgers, came a late later than both he and the Halos hoped it would.The left-handed slugger entered the game hitting only .194 on the season, and was homerless with just two RBIs in 19 games with the Angels, his 11th Major League team. It was those struggles that made Branyan's game-winning shot all the more rewarding. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder joked he was in disbelief as he watched the ball sail into Angel Stadium's right-center-field seats, helping the Angels win only their fourth game of the season in which they trailed after six innings. "It's something where I want to come through. I want to produce," he said. "I haven't been swinging the bat the way I'd like to be, but to hit the go-ahead homer feels really good." Branyan started the season with Arizona, where he hit .210 in 31 games, but was released in late May. The then-Vernon Wells-less Angels, in the midst of their biggest power outage of the season, snatched Branyan up less than a week later. Initially, Branyan wasn't sure what kind of playing time to expect. Now he said he believes he's settled into a role where he gets about a start a week and can come in as a pinch-hitter to try to help give the Halos some more pop. Branyan has now homered for 10 teams in his career, one club shy of the Major League record held by Matt Stairs. "We're all human beings you know. ... Each and every one of us, we're competitors," Branyan said. "We want to get in there. We want to be the one's up there when the game's on the line. We want to come through to help us win. It just feels good to be in that situation and come through."
Conger learns from Sunday's gaffe
ANAHEIM -- Sunday's third inning brought the latest step in the learning curve for Hank Conger.The Angels' rookie catcher thought he tagged out Dodgers hitter Tony Gwynn, who had whiffed on an Ervin Santana ball in the dirt. Hearing a "yes, yes" from the home-plate umpire -- which Conger interpreted as meaning he tagged him -- he prepared to throw the ball around the horn, assuming the out had been recorded. He was wrong, and a moment later, Gwynn made it to first base before a late throw from Conger. The umpire ruled that his glove never made contact with the runner. Replays were inconclusive as to the success of Conger's tag attempt. "That was just kind of dumb on my part," he said. Fortunately for Conger and the Angels, the mistake wasn't too costly -- Conger was worried when Gwynn advanced to third after a stolen base and a groundout, but Santana was able to escape the inning with out any damage. Either way, Conger won't be forgetting his latest learning experience anytime soon. The 23-year-old -- named the MVP of last season's All-Star Futures Game after he launched a three-run homer -- said he discussed the play with manager Mike Scioscia. The conversation essentially resulted in a simple lesson: When in doubt, throw it to first base. "You just have to have a field presence to realize, 'Hey, the umpire isn't calling him out.' His hands are still out and you have time to recover and just flip the ball to first base," said Scioscia, a former catcher. "... You have to understand that in some situations there's going to be a learning curve to some of these things. Hopefully Hank will put that one to rest and not have it happen again."
Howard Kendrick -- named an All-Star Sunday for the first time in his career -- brings a season-long 12-game hitting streak into Monday's game. He's 16-for-47 over that stretch. Angels' first-round Draft pick C.J. Cron slammed his first professional home run Sunday for the Orem Owlz. Cron is 3-for-10 with three walks in his first three games for Orem, scoring four runs and collecting four RBIs. Los Angeles registered just three hits in its 3-1 victory over the Dodgers Sunday. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Angels have been limited to three or fewer hits in 133 home games since 1969, but this was only the second instance in which they still managed to plate three or more runs. On July 21, 1990, they beat the Indians, 5-2, also recording three hits.
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.