7/2/2014 1:24 A.M. ET
Angels among teams with soccer fever
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Several Angels players were bummed that Monday's game at U.S. Cellular Field was rained out, not necessarily because it prompted a doubleheader, but because they'd start playing earlier on Tuesday -- and wouldn't be able to see the United States soccer team take on Belgium in the World Cup.
Yeah, they're hooked, too.
"Truthfully, I wasn't a big soccer fan," said Angels catcher Hank Conger, whose South Korean team was knocked out early. "But seeing everybody in here being so into all the games, even if it wasn't the U.S. playing or anything like that, is making me kind of watch the game, too, and kind of understand the game more. So this is the most I've ever understood the rules and understood the meaning of the game, and how passionate guys are."
The same can be said for many of Conger's teammates, who have been glued to televisions for the past several weeks watching every soccer game that comes on before pregame stretch.
Mike Trout has become a big supporter of the U.S. Men's National Team, getting his own customized jersey sent to him by the club on Monday. Tyler Skaggs has Mexican roots, so he bought a jersey and watched intently before they were eliminated in the round of 16. And video coordinator Diego Lopez was delirious when his Argentine club scored in extra time to move past Switzerland on Tuesday.
"I think one of the biggest things for us during the season is just trying to keep the clubhouse loose," Conger said, before the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup with a 2-1 loss. "This is one of those ways where it just kind of keeps us loose, keeps us talking, as a team, everybody in here watching the game."
More bullpen help could be in offing for Halos
CHICAGO -- The Angels acquired a badly needed experienced closer and lefty specialist over the past five days, but the closer (Jason Grilli) had a 4.87 ERA in his first 22 games of 2014, while the lefty specialist (Rich Hill) is a journeyman who has spent the entire season in the Minor Leagues.
Are the Halos done addressing the bullpen? Thirty-one days remain until the non-waiver Trade Deadline, so they might not be.
"Any moves that are made are to strengthen your staff at the present time," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Where it leads to, where you are two weeks or a month from now, you never know. But these moves are made for a reason. It's not a tryout."
Grilli, 37, was acquired in a change-of-scenery trade that sent former closer Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates. Hill was brought in prior to Tuesday's doubleheader, acquired from the Red Sox for cash considerations. Hill was added to the 40-man roster, with right-hander Michael Kohn optioned back to Triple-A to create space in the bullpen.
Whether the 34-year-old fills the Angels' lefty-specialist void remains to be seen.
"When he's rolling, he can get anybody out," said sidearmer Joe Smith, who played with Hill during what ended up being a rough season for the left-hander in Cleveland last year. "He's got nasty stuff. He can throw his fastball anywhere from 90 to 95 [mph], and he has a huge curve."
Hill is in his fifth Major League organization and carries a 4.74 ERA in 465 2/3 innings from 2005-13. Hill's best season came with the Cubs in 2007, when he won 11 games and posted a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts, but he's been inconsistent since and has primarily worked out of the bullpen since '10.
Hill posted a 6.28 ERA in 63 appearances for the Indians last season, posting a WHIP of 1.73 and a walk rate of 6.8 in 38 2/3 innings. He then spent the beginning of the 2014 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 3.23 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and a 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games (39 innings). He held lefties to a .196/.302/.196 triple-slash mark during that time.
Hill, who had a July 1 opt-out from his Minor League contract, can choose to become a free agent if sent back to the Minor Leagues. In his Angels debut, the Boston native entered the ninth inning with a five-run lead in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader, then loaded the bases with none out and paved the way for Joe Smith to pick up the save with a couple of groundouts.
Prior to that, Scioscia said he hopes the addition of Hill "brings a little more balance to our 'pen, trying to get a lefty down there who can help us and give us a situational look. The guy was available, and hopefully he'll throw the ball the way he can. We'll see how he fits in."
Angels pass halfway point headed in right direction
CHICAGO -- The first half of the Angels' season came and went in the middle of Tuesday's doubleheader from U.S. Cellular Field, and though the baseball season leaves little time for reflection or introspection, the Angels can take some pride in being on the right track.
Their 46 wins through their first 81 games were the most they've had since doing the same in 2009, the last year they made the playoffs. Their run-differential through the halfway point, plus-51, was higher than in any of the previous four years in which they were devoid of meaningful October baseball.
Below is a look at how the Angels' numbers through 81 games in 2014 compared to those of the previous four seasons.
Starters' ERA: 3.69
Reliever WHIP: 1.35
Starters' ERA: 4.45
Reliever WHIP: 1.30
Starters' ERA: 3.68
Reliever WHIP: 1.30
Starters' ERA: 3.43
Reliever WHIP: 1.37
Starters' ERA: 4.26
Reliever WHIP: 1.92
• Angels reliever Fernando Salas (right shoulder inflammation) threw his second bullpen session in three days on Tuesday and came out of it feeling good. If Salas bounces back normally on Wednesday, there's a good chance he'll be activated off the disabled list.
• Michael Kohn was sent back to Triple-A three days after being called up, without having pitched in a game. The 28-year-old right-hander pitched 9 1/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A, but the Angels currently need more length out of their relievers, and Scioscia said Kohn is "not quite the finished product he can be." Walks are still a concern.
• Hector Santiago was available out of the bullpen for Tuesday's doubleheader, an indication that the 26-year-old left-hander will be backed up to start Saturday, putting him on six days' rest. That would put Matt Shoemaker in line to start Thursday on five days' rest, with C.J. Wilson to start Friday on the standard four days' rest. The probables aren't official yet, and Santiago ultimately wasn't needed in relief.
• After Tuesday's doubleheader sweep, the Angels optioned right-handed reliever David Carpenter back to Triple-A Salt Lake in order to activate Wednesday's starter, Tyler Skaggs, off the disabled list. Carpenter, 26, pitched three scoreless innings in his only appearance 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.