© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
05/13/07 3:25 PM ET
Notes: Kotchman working on stroke
Angels young first baseman trying to relax at the plate
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Unlike football and hockey, where all-out, all-consuming effort can lift a lesser athlete to great heights, maximum aggression can be a drawback in baseball. Frequently, less is more. This especially is true for hitters. Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman is a case study. He has to keep reminding himself that his desire can be a detriment when he runs into a dry spell, stops finding gaps and holes, and his batting average tumbles like a John Lackey curveball. "When I try to do too much," Kotchman said, "I lock myself up. I swing too hard instead of staying easy and smooth. It's human nature. Sometimes you try too hard, you get too aggressive and it works against you." At 24, Kotchman is relatively new to all of the pressures and demands of life in the big leagues. He seems older than that, because he's been around for a while, but he's still going through the process of finding himself as an offensive weapon. Defense is not an issue. He hasn't committed an error in his past 102 games, showcasing the athleticism, intelligence and instincts to win multiple Gold Gloves. And that will buy him time as he tries to lift his numbers and become a threat behind Vladimir Guerrero, one of the ongoing themes of this Angels season. Kotchman had two hits and an RBI on Saturday, showing signs of emerging from a recent offensive slumber. He took a .234 batting average and .378 slugging percentage into Sunday's start against Texas right-hander Mike Wood. As for the pressures of delivering behind Guerrero, Kotchman prefers to see it as a plus. "That doesn't enter my mind," Kotchman said. "For anybody who has the opportunity to hit behind him in the lineup, it's exciting. We're all just trying to stay ready and take advantage of every opportunity to produce. It's a long season, and we need everybody." Work in progress: Another hitter trying to shake free from an offensive funk is catcher Mike Napoli, who has a modest three-game hitting streak that brought his average to .200 going into Sunday's game. He's slugging .329. "Nap and Kotch attack the ball, but they're totally different types of hitters," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Kotch is more of a line-drive hitter with occasional power. We need that consistent approach from him. "Mike is a guy with exceptional power. He will drive the ball the other way, but there's lift to his swing. They might be grinding a bit, pressing too hard. But there aren't many similarities in their games. Mike's got a chance to go out to any part of the park. Casey has the ability to hit line drives, use the whole field and strikeout less often." Speier update: Justin Speier remains home in Southern California recovering from an unspecified non-baseball ailment. Scioscia is keeping in contact with his valuable reliever through the medical staff. "Speier is throwing, doing some activities," Scioscia said of the right-hander signed to a four-year free-agent deal over the winter. "That's the first step. Hopefully, he gets to the point where he can recharge." In 15 appearances, Speier held hitters to a .130 average, walking five while striking out 17 in 16 innings. He has stranded all 15 inherited baserunners. Haynes on fire: Nathan Haynes, a 27-year-old speed burner from Oakland, continues to tear it up for Triple-A Salt Lake. He banged his fourth homer, singled and walked twice on Saturday in a 9-8 win over Nashville. Haynes stole his 13th base in 17 attempts while raising his average to .402. He leads the club in RBIs with 26, remarkable for a leadoff man. Before returning to the Angels on May 4, Tommy Murphy shared the Salt Lake outfield with Haynes, who left a big impression. "He's playing better than I've ever seen him play before," Murphy said, comparing Haynes' style to that of Chone Figgins. "If he hits a line drive over the second baseman or shortstop's head, he's going for a double. He's a good outfielder, too." Another promising outfielder, Terry Evans, also homered on Saturday, his fifth. Evans is batting .326. Nick Gorneault, who had a great spring, has struggled (.216), but he is showing signs of coming around. With Reggie Willits' emergence as a valued performer and Murphy waiting in the wings with similar skills, the Angels have considerable depth in the outfield. Short hops: Maicer Izturis (hamstring) said he's ready to go, and he is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday when the team is in Seattle. ... If all goes as planned in his rehab at Salt Lake, Howard Kendrick (broken bone in left hand) could rejoin the Angels during their May 22-27 trip through Detroit and New York. ... Guerrero has hit safely in 55-of-59 career games against Texas, batting .432 with 21 homers and 51 RBIs. He's a .410 hitter in Texas with 12 homers and 26 RBIs in 30 games before Sunday. Up next: Jered Weaver (1-3, 4.26 ERA) will go for the Angels in Monday's series finale at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He'll face Kevin Millwood (2-3, 5.88 ERA) at 11:05 a.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.