04/18/11 8:30 PM ET
Downs back on his feet
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Angels' Izturis surpassing leadoff expectations
ARLINGTON -- Maicer Izturis is a man with a plan. The early returns for the Angels' leadoff man are beyond successful. They're a little stunning.Entering the Angels' three-game series with the defending American League champion Rangers on Monday, Izturis was second in the league with a .383 batting average, trailing only the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (.385). Izturis through Sunday was tied for the league lead with 23 hits and seven multihit games. Moving from third to shortstop to second base, depending on the day's need, he has been playing his customary superb defense. The most meaningful of Izturis' numbers is his .403 on-base percentage. With Howard Kendrick and Bobby Abreu behind him, the soft-spoken Venezuelan has formed the best top-of-the-order grouping since Chone Figgins was the leadoff catalyst for the 2009 wrecking crew. "Izzy is working counts, going 3-2, then driving the ball hard," said cleanup hitter Torii Hunter. "It's fun when you come up and he's already on second base. You know you're going to see everything that pitcher has by the second time through the lineup, because Izzy is working the count. You're going to see his fastball, changeup, breaking ball. "That's a leadoff guy. That's what we were missing when he was gone for three months [with injuries] last year. People don't realize how valuable that little guy is. I call him 'The Energizer Bunny.' That's what he does for us." Izturis is not one to toot his own instrument, but he knows what he's capable of doing when his body cooperates and he's in the lineup on a regular basis. "I've always liked leading off," he said. "It gets you in the game right away. I try to work counts, see as many pitches as I can, in my first two at-bats. Then I go up with a more aggressive approach. I like to see at least four pitches if I can that first at-bat especially. That way the guys behind me can see what the pitcher is throwing." Kendrick, hitting .306 with a .386 OBP and .613 slugging mark, is benefiting from Izturis' selectivity. Abreu (.291/.435/.400) also is off to a strong start, the top third fueling an offense that has outscored the opposition by 12 runs through a 10-5 start.
Kazmir takes new approach back to mound
ARLINGTON -- In his youth, with Tampa Bay, Scott Kazmir rocked and let it fly. He didn't worry about his mechanics, about hitters making contact, about the positioning of his hands and legs before, during and after his delivery. He was a natural.For the past season plus, he has been The Unnatural. And he's tired of it. "It's like I've been pitching with the emergency brake on," Kazmir said, having rejoined his teammates briefly at Rangers Ballpark before heading on Monday night to Arizona for a game under controlled conditions on Tuesday. "I have to be free and easy, not thinking about too many things. "My arm strength is there. My arm speed is there. Everything checks out great physically. I wouldn't be able to throw the ball 250 feet long toss the way I can if anything was wrong." Kazmir went to the 15-day disabled list after one bad start in Kansas City on April 3 with soreness in his lower back. He went home to Houston for three days and studied video from various stages of his career with Ron Wolforth, an independent pitching instructor he has known since high school. "He did a lot of research and we went over a lot of stuff," Kazmir said. "Basically, I've been trying to create velocity with things I was doing, movements in my delivery, and it was the opposite. I did some throwing and it felt good. Now I'm going to take it to the mound and get back to work." Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he expects Kazmir to have several sessions in Arizona before pitching at least one game for Triple-A Salt Lake. "What he did was release-point oriented," Scioscia said. "The back feels good. He's got all that behind him. Hopefully, he can get in touch with the things he needs. With the release point, it's a feel for where the ball and body need to be. With Scott, it's absolutely more of a feel. "When a guy is not performing the way he can, there's a confidence factor, to know you can go out and make a pitch. Right now, it's missing. He's got to work back into his length, work a couple [controlled games], then take it to a higher level game -- Triple-A -- and put pitches together." Joel Pineiro, coming back from back issues near his left shoulder blade, will pitch three innings at extended spring training on Wednesday in Arizona. Kendrys Morales also is in Arizona, continuing his running program. Shortstop Erick Aybar (strained left oblique) is playing a Triple-A game for Salt Lake in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday night and is expected to rejoin the Angels by Wednesday when the series with the Rangers concludes.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.