CLEVELAND -- When he was demoted to Triple-A Salt Lake, after the Angels elected to go with two catchers, Hank Conger handled it as well as a young player can -- calmly, professionally, vowing to work on parts of his game that had slipped as the season wore on.
Conger was intent on using the opportunity to play regularly to recapture his hitting stroke, and the early evidence shows he is making good on his pledge. Through six Pacific Coast League games, Conger is hitting .360 with two homers and 10 runs batted in, putting together a 1.065 OPS. He also has two doubles and is slugging .680.
Batting third in the Bees' lineup on Monday, Conger homered and singled, driving in a pair of runs, in a 9-2 rout of Tacoma. He caught Matt Palmer, and the big right-hander who had such an impact on the 2009 Angels had his second excellent start in a row, yielding one run on four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts.
Reliever Michael Kohn, recently demoted to Salt Lake after a recurrence of control issues, worked a perfect inning of relief with a strikeout.
Haren, Weaver make life tough for Tribe
CLEVELAND -- Manny Acta is an unabashed admirer of the Angels' rotation. The Cleveland manager was not especially looking forward to seeing Jered Weaver, a leading Cy Young Award candidate, follow a dominant Dan Haren to the mound on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
"I can show you the stats," Acta was saying late on Monday night after Haren had held the Tribe to a run on three hits across 7 2/3 innings of a game Cleveland claimed with a ninth-inning rally. "He does this just about every five days against everybody. And the guy [Tuesday] is not a picnic, either."
Haren threw a one-hit shutout against the Indians in April. Combined, Weaver and Haren are 23-10. Weaver's ERA was an MLB-best 1.81 heading into Tuesday night's game, with Haren at 3.01.
"Those two guys, that ballclub, that's the reason why they're so good and they're always in it," Acta said. "They have two No. 1 guys on their staff. That really stops teams from getting on any type of long losing streaks and gives them a chance to win at least twice a week every time those guys go out there. And the rest of their rotation is really good, too."
Haren's return to form after struggling with some back pain was a big shot in the arms race for the Angels. His 10 strikeouts reflected a blend of stuff and command that had been missing of late as Haren internally dealt with the back issue, never mentioning it.
Weaver and Haren have been as good as any tandem in the game, and if Ervin Santana builds on recent efforts and regains prime form, it's three aces in manager Mike Scioscia's hand. Joel Pineiro and Tyler Chatwood have been up and down at the back of the rotation but both have the ability to deliver big performances down the stretch.
Haren has Walden's back after tough loss
CLEVELAND -- Dan Haren has been around too long -- and is too smart -- to get caught up in the emotion of one victory that got away.
In the aftermath of Cleveland's 3-2 comeback decision on Monday at the primary expense of Angels closer Jordan Walden, whose blown save was his seventh in 30 opportunities, Haren stood firmly behind the young Texan.
"It hurts -- it's tough," Haren said. "He's done a great job. He's dealing with a bump in the road. I dealt with it, Weav [Jered Weaver] dealt with one. Jordan's suffering, but he'll be fine. We need him.
"I'll let him know we need him. Having experience with tough games, it hurts that night. You want to go out there the next day. In an ideal situation, he'll get out there [Tuesday night] and get the job done."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has stood firmly behind Walden, who at this time last season was coming off an appearance in a Double-A All-Star game and is in only his second full season as a relief pitcher.
"Jordan, like a lot of our guys, doesn't have a track record in the Major Leagues," Scioscia said. "Hopefully, he grows into one of the best closers in baseball. He has that ability, and that's what we're hoping to see."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.