09/01/12 9:08 PM ET
Hunter thriving in two-hole, eyes .300 average
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Now -- at 37 and in his 16th season -- he's getting back into that, as an exceedingly effective No. 2 hitter for the Angels.
"I hit-and-ran, I bunted, did everything," Hunter said of his younger days in the Twins organization. "Then I showed a lot of power one year in 2001, and that's when they said, 'This dude can hit for power, let's put him in the fourth, fifth and sixth hole.' That's what happened. It changed my life. Good thing, but at the same time, I always wanted to hit .300."
He has that chance now.
Hunter has notched 13 hits over his last four games, putting his batting average at .308 and prompting manager Mike Scioscia to say he "might be playing the best baseball we've seen in his [five-year] stay with us." Since his June 8 move to the No. 2 spot -- which comfortably resides between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- his batting average is .344.
Those numbers have helped make this lineup a force over the past three months and are potentially making the right fielder more expensive to retain as an upcoming free agent -- though Hunter and the Angels both say they want to stay together beyond this season.
"The two-spot is really becoming a perfect fit for him -- it has been for a while -- just for the fact that he's back in tune with probably the type of hitter he was back in the Minor Leagues and when he first came to the big leagues," Scioscia said. "His power developed, and he was a guy who hit 25 home runs a year, but he's more than that. And I think he's back in tune with that."
At 12 homers heading into the final month of the regular season, Hunter has little to no shot at matching his 2001-11 average of 24. But he's on pace for a career-high batting average.
"It's fun not swinging hard," said Hunter, in the final season of a five-year deal. "Hitting in the two-hole, I don't have to swing hard. It's helping me a lot."
It could help him finally finish with a .300 batting average.
"Hitting .300 would be special," Hunter said, "but nothing more special than winning a World Series."
Downs rejoins Angels after settling family matter
SEATTLE -- Angels reliever Scott Downs returned to his teammates on Saturday morning, ready to refocus on baseball for the regular season's final month and confident that his situation back home is, or will be, resolved.
Downs left the team on Sunday night, traveling to his Kentucky home while being placed on the family medical emergency list to deal with a health issue involving one of his three children. The 36-year-old left-hander wouldn't discuss the specifics of that situation, saying only that "everything's going in the right direction."
Downs believes the time away will help him narrow his focus down the stretch.
"It's going to be a lot easier now," he said. "I've been a little sidetracked the last little bit, but that's part of life. Sometimes you have to put things in perspective, and the Angels, they were great in understanding what needed to be done. I was able to go home, get some stuff cleared out, and now I'm back and ready to go."
Downs, a valuable left-handed complement to Ernesto Frieri in the back end of a struggling bullpen, has been charged with 12 earned runs in eight innings in the second half, giving him a 3.08 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP for the season.
He threw on a couple of days during the four Angels games he missed, but he also spent the first half of August on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder and may need a little time to get back in a flow.
"He's going to throw a little touch-and-feel out there now and just get acclimated," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said pregame. "I think in a perfect world, you'd like to give him an inning where he [could get his stuff together]. But as I said, we're going to use him as we need him."
Pair of young lefties called up as rosters expand
SEATTLE -- In one day, the Angels went from having no lefty relievers to three.
Scott Downs returned from the family medical emergency list on Saturday, which also coincided with the first day of roster expansions and allowed the Angels to add lefties Nick Maronde and Andrew Taylor as part of their September callups.
Taylor and Maronde, ranked by MLB.com as the Angels' No. 4 prospect, are in the big leagues for the first time. They each work mostly with a fastball-slider combination and will both pitch out of the bullpen.
Their roles, however, are unknown.
"They're definitely some good arms," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who also called up versatile infielder Andrew Romine and catcher John Hester. "It gives us a little bit of balance with where our staff is going into September and we'll see what roles evolve."
Maronde, 22, was taken in the third round of last year's Draft and has jumped three levels in his first full season as a pro, combining to post a 2.26 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and a 4.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 games (18 starts) for Rookie ball, advanced Class A and Double-A.
Taylor, 26, was taken in the 34th round in 2008 and has made 53 relief appearances for Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Salt Lake this year, posting a 4.27 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and a 2.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 innings.
It's unlikely that either of them factors into the back end of a bullpen that includes Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and Garrett Richards.
"I think our bullpen has come together where we have some guys throwing the ball well that can hold leads, but I think the opportunity to see if these guys are going to be depth this month is something we have to look at," Scioscia said. "If they are, great. It'd be icing on the cake for what we need to do."
Howie Kendrick returned to the Angels lineup for Saturday's 5-2 win over the Mariners, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double after a sore right knee forced him to exit Thursday's game in the third inning and sit out Friday's contest.
Since returning from a calf injury, Albert Pujols has started five straight games at designated hitter, going 8-for-20 to put his season-long hitting streak at 10 games. Pujols has been getting some pregame work at first base lately but continues to run the bases very gingerly.
"He's nursing something that you have to stay on top of, so he's going to move as well as he can," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously he's not 100 percent. It's tough to put a percentage of where he is, but it's something he has to nurse."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com Read his columns and 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.