04/23/10 11:31 PM ET
Willits shows his range on center stage
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Willits showed uncommon range in making a pair of highlight-reel catches, robbing Magglio Ordonez with a full-tilt dive to end the fourth inning and taking extra bases away from Scott Sizemore with another diving play to open the eighth.
"I'd say the first one was a little tougher, even though I had farther to go on the second one," Willits said. "I was playing Ordonez a little deeper, to pull. Your initial reaction with a hitter like him is you think it's hit a little harder, so your first few steps might not be as aggressive as you want them to be.
"On the second one, I was playing the hitter toward right-center, so I had a little farther to go. But I was able to read that one off the bat and get a good break on it."
A natural center fielder, Willits became acquainted with the corners during his breakthrough rookie year in 2007. He had to modify his aggression at the corners, always being aware of the center fielder's positioning, but has regained his old center fielder's mind-set and is taking it to the corners.
"Right now I feel good in all three spots, for the first time in my career," said Willits, who was set back by a hamstring strain in the spring. "My center-field mentality is to go get the baseball, and once I get there make everybody get out of the way. I'm going to be very aware of where Torii is when I'm playing left or right, but if he's shading the other way, I'm going aggressively to the ball in the gap.
"In Spring Training, [manager Mike Scioscia] came to me and said he wanted me to focus on playing center field the way I used to. In '08 and '09 I did hardly any work there. I've been trying to get better at the corners. It's a lot of fun to get a few games in center field. I feel good physically, the best I have in a long time."
Wilson's first career start is brief
ANAHEIM -- Angels catcher Bobby Wilson was understandably excited when he learned he'd be making his first Major League start behind the plate against the Yankees on Friday night at Angel Stadium.
"I always stay prepared," said Wilson, who had made 20 big league appearances in pieces of three seasons. "That's one thing for sure: I'll never be unprepared."
There was nothing that could have prepared Wilson for what was coming in the third inning: a runaway Mark Teixeira.
Teixeira slammed a shoulder into a stationary Wilson at home plate on Robinson Cano's RBI single to right, knocking the catcher off his feet and out of the game with an injured left ankle and concussion. Wilson was taken to a nearby medical center for a CT Scan and X-rays.
Wilson, the Angels' No. 3 catcher to open the season, moved up on the depth chart when Jeff Mathis' right wrist was fractured on Monday by a pitch. With Mathis sidelined for four to eight weeks, Wilson's role as backup to Mike Napoli acquired added importance.
Wilson, a Dunedin, Fla., native, was a teammate of former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman at Seminole (Fla.) High School. Wilson was taken by the Angels in the 48th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and has impressed with his defensive skills in his climb through the farm system, batting .283 in 639 Minor League games.
Wilson saved a game last season in Oakland when he smothered a potential game-ending wild pitch by John Lackey in the ninth inning of what turned out to be a 1-0 victory over the Athletics.
"From the defensive end, he's a terrific receiver, very soft [hands] back there," manager Mike Scioscia said. "From the offensive side, it's tough to sit a few weeks and be locked in. He puts the bat on the ball."
Ryan Budde would bring a veteran presence behind the plate if the Angels need another catcher. Budde, who is at Triple-A Salt Lake, has 23 games of Major League experience. Hank Conger, one of the organization's premium prospects, is gaining catching experience at Salt Lake.
Palmer gets the job done
ANAHEIM -- When he took the mound in Thursday night's series finale against the Tigers earlier than anticipated, trying to restore some order after Joe Saunders was knocked out in the third inning, Matt Palmer had two missions.
"My first goal was to go long enough in the game to keep the bullpen fresh, to get it to the seventh or eighth inning if possible," Palmer said. "As a long man, you know when you come in that early you're going to work three innings, so I had to get to the sixth.
"My second goal was keeping my team in the game."
Missions accomplished. Palmer shut out the Tigers across 4 1/3 innings, the longest relief outing of his career. Brian Stokes and Jason Bulger also delivered after Palmer departed, but the Angels fell, 5-4.
Palmer, an emergency starter last season who won his first six decisions and finished 11-2, hasn't yielded a run in 8 2/3 innings out of the bullpen despite walking nine men.
"That's my job," he said. "When the starter doesn't have his A game, it's up to me to come in and prolong the game. It feels good to save some arms in the bullpen."
Slumping Wood gets the night off
ANAHEIM -- Brandon Wood, whose average fell to .087 when he was hitless in three at-bats Thursday night, was out of the Angels' lineup on Friday night at Angel Stadium.
Maicer Izturis moved in at third base, batting seventh against A.J. Burnett. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Wood would return to the lineup on Saturday against southpaw Andy Pettitte.
"A day off gives him a mental break and a chance to work on some things," Scioscia said. "He's going to play [Saturday]. We'll keep tracking him.
"Last week in Toronto he was hitting the ball well. In the first game against Detroit, [Magglio] Ordonez made that circus catch. The frustration level is something we're going to monitor with Brandon. He gets impatient with himself. Brandon is not the flashy-type player. You can see he's kind of gritting his teeth. He's confident in his ability, and he's frustrated.
"We have confidence Brandon's going to be a special offensive player. It's not going to happen in one night, with one epiphany. Twelve, 15 years from now I'm confident we're going to talk about him as a terrific baseball player."
ANAHEIM -- When they're good, they're very good. When they're bad ... turn out the lights. In the Angels' eight wins coming into the weekend series with the Yankees, their starters own a 1.61 ERA with 47 walks and four strikeouts in 56 innings pitched. In their nine losses, the rotation's ERA is 7.42 in 47 1/3 innings, with 21 walks and 30 strikeouts. ... According to STATS LLC, Howard Kendrick is the only player with a career .400 average or better in at least 100 at-bats against the Yankees. Kendrick is hitting .409 in 115 at-bats against New York pitching entering the weekend. Right behind him are Dick Stuart, a power-hitting first baseman known as Dr. Strangeglove, and Ted Williams, who needs no introduction. Stuart hit .380 against the Yankees, Williams .373. ... Hideki Matsui is six homers away from 150 in the Major Leagues and 24 shy of 500 in his professional career.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.