ANAHEIM -- In some ways, Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar will always be fused at the hip -- and not just because they're double-play partners.They came up through the system together, established themselves in the Majors at about the same time, agreed to similar contract extensions this year, struggled at the start of this season and now, with September at the doorstep, have turned things around with recent surges. Kendrick signed a four-year, $33.5 million extension on Jan. 9, then batted .241 and dropped out of the top of the lineup in April. But he's batting .344 in August and heads into Thursday's series finale against the Red Sox on a 15-game hitting streak. Aybar signed a four-year, $35 million deal on April 19 -- after already agreeing to a contract for 2012 -- but was hitting below the Mendoza Line through mid-May. Since coming off the disabled list in early August, though, Aybar sports a .354 batting average and has looked a lot like the Gold Glove shortstop of a year ago. "When you're talking about contract extensions that cover a four- or five-year period, to try to measure them in two months or six months or even one season, it's foolish to do that, frankly," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Where do we stand today on Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar? We feel just as strongly about them today as we did in November and December and January. These guys are good players." And, with what would have been their free-agent offseasons only a couple of months away, Aybar and Kendrick once again look like bargains. Kendrick, currently hitting .292 with a .332 on-base percentage while slugging .405, would've been far and away the best second baseman available this winter. With the Rangers' Ian Kinsler (five years, $75 million) and the Reds' Brandon Phillips (six years, $72.5 million) signing extensions in early April, Kendrick could've been highly coveted in a free-agent pool that only sports the likes of Jeff Keppinger, Freddy Sanchez and Skip Schumaker. To this day, Kendrick isn't the least bit curious. "No, because I think the contract that I have is more than enough to have my family set straight," he said. "I don't think that was really one of my biggest worries. Every guy at some point may hit free agency. After this contract, maybe I'll get there. Maybe not. That remains to be seen. But I think the biggest thing was being happy where I play at. Why go out there and experiment with something when I already know where I fit in?" Aybar has a similar perspective. The switch-hitting speedster currently sports a .276/.313/.406 slash line at a premium position and would've been the cream of a very thin crop of available shortstops -- a short list that includes Stephen Drew and the Angels' own Maicer Izturis. Jhonny Peralta has an affordable $6 million club option for next year, and the win-now Tigers are likely to pick it up. "I never cared much for [free agency]," Aybar recently said in Spanish. "I like it here, I feel good here and I want to win. That's it." It's a refreshing approach, similar to the one Jered Weaver took when he signed his team-friendly extension last August. And it's good for business. "Right now, Howie and Erick are both performing compensatory to or above what has been their career norm," Dipoto said. "Therefore, by and large, they've delivered exactly what we thought we were going to be getting. You'd like to see steady from beginning to end, but that's just not the way the game works often times. Very happy with the way they're playing right now. They're two solid players at positions that are typically tough positions to fill."
Kendrick pulled with sore right knee
ANAHEIM -- Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick felt a pinch in his right knee while jogging back to the dugout after the top of the third inning at Angel Stadium on Thursday night. It's the type of pain he remembers feeling during a game about a month ago.That time, it didn't force him to exit. This time, it did. "When he was going up to hit in the third inning, he got on deck and just came back and said, 'I can't even plant,'" Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the Angels' 5-2 victory over the Red Sox. "So we had to make the change [with pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo]." "It's just a pain on the inside of my knee," Kendrick described. "I was running off the field, it gave out, and that's about all I could tell you. It just didn't feel good." Kendrick came into the game on a tear, batting .344 in August to get his batting average back up to .291. His exit after one plate appearance -- a lineout to center field in the first inning -- snapped his hitting streak at 15 games. Kendrick, who hasn't missed any time due to injury this season, isn't sure how this will affect his status moving forward. "I could walk on it fine," Kendrick said just before boarding a flight to Seattle. "It's just when I started to put pressure on it, it gave on me a little bit. Tomorrow, I don't know what I have in store yet, but I want to try to get out [on the field pregame] and do something to see."
Angels' rotation is turning the corner
ANAHEIM -- The underachieving season of the Angels' starting rotation appears to be a group effort.Together -- minus the one constant in Cy Young-hopeful Jered Weaver -- Angels starters struggled mightily beginning in early July, posting a 5.71 ERA over a 42-game stretch that was the second-highest in the American League. But over the past nine games -- a stretch in which the Angels have won seven games -- starters have posted a 3.99 mark that may not be spectacular but is certainly an improvement.
In that span, Ervin Santana has put together a good run and Zack Greinke has had back-to-back solid outings, while C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren have each turned in starts that could very much be deemed steps forward.While there's certainly something to starters feeding off each other when they're going well, and perhaps putting too much pressure on themselves when they're going wrong, Angels manager Mike Scioscia noted that each starter has struggled for different reasons. Wilson: Overanalyzing. Santana: Commanding counts. Haren: Seemingly a drop in velocity and health. Greinke: Perhaps adjusting to a new environment. "It's some individual things that I think are tied to each pitcher," said Scioscia, whose staff ranks 12th in the AL with a 4.10 ERA on the year. "There's no doubt four guys in our rotation, which we've obviously counted on, struggled at the same time. But what the rhyme or reason was, I don't think it's just one blanket analogy for everybody."
Mike Trout's first-inning run on Thursday was his 103rd on the season, tying the Angels' rookie record. Devon White had the same in 159 games in 1987. Trout did it in 108.
Speaking prior to Thursday's game, Scioscia was still unsure when lefty reliever Scott Downs would rejoin the team. Downs left the team Sunday night and was placed on the family medical emergency list prior to their next game. The list doesn't allow players to miss more than seven games, meaning Downs would be back Tuesday at the latest.Asked if Downs could be available for the weekend series against the Mariners, Scioscia said: "We'll see. It's going to be one step at a time with Downs. We'll just see whenever he's ready to go." Albert Pujols returned from a calf injury on Tuesday and started at designated hitter for the third straight game on Thursday. He could take grounders at first base during batting practice in Seattle on Friday.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.