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Guerrero has a shift in fortune

Times Staff Writer

Vladimir Guerrero used to pound the Texas Rangers, batting .440 with 21 home runs, 18 doubles, 49 runs batted in and an .812 slugging percentage in his first 56 games against them. The Angels won 35 of those games.

But early last season Texas Manager Ron Washington went to a shift against him, putting three infielders on the left side, and Guerrero -- who went hitless Sunday -- has batted a more mortal .294 without a homer in his last 18 games against the Rangers.

The Angels are 9-9 over the span.

“It’s just three games. You have to wait and see what I do against them in the future,” Guerrero said after collecting three singles in 12 at-bats against the Rangers over the weekend. “The important thing is I feel really good. Every year starts the same, but we have to wait to see what happens as the season goes on.”

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Hitting coach Mickey Hatcher agrees.

“At the end of last year he wasn’t really at his best. And this year, it’s just the start of the season. I don’t think his swing is where he wants it to be right now,” Hatcher said. “He’s going to get a lot of base hits over there. Let’s see how it plays out. He beat the shift on a lot of balls last year. I don’t think it bothers him one bit.”

Guerrero, who hit .366 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in the first month of last season, is hitting .250 with only one extra-base hit through seven games this season.

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Closer Francisco Rodriguez, bothered since last season by a sore left ankle, grimaced repeatedly and appeared to be hobbling during a shaky 19-pitch save Friday. And Manager Mike Scioscia said the pain is now coming from his right ankle, the one he uses to push off the mound.

“He tweaked it a couple of days ago, and we’re going to look at it closely,” Scioscia said. “But it is a little sore.”

Rodriguez, a late arrival to the Angels clubhouse Sunday, said he felt fine and Scioscia, after some initial doubts, said he could have used the right-hander had the situation come up.

As it turned out, he wasn’t needed in the Angels’ 10-4 loss.

Rodriguez has pitched scoreless innings to earn saves in each of his three appearances this season, but he hasn’t looked smooth, missing the strike zone on more than half his pitches.

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Howie Kendrick, who had two hits Sunday to run his regular-season hitting streak to 12 games dating to last September, credits experience and patience for this fast start.

“Coming up I didn’t really know many of the pitchers,” said Kendrick, who has yet to play a full season in the majors. “I was chasing a lot of balls out of the zone. I think every year you become a better player all around because you’re getting that experience and learning pitchers.”

That knowledge has also allowed Kendrick to be more selective at the plate.

“The patience thing is, you just have to trust in yourself. And try to get . . . good pitches to hit rather than falling into those pitches just off the plate,” said Kendrick, the team leader in average (.444), hits (12) and runs (six). “I’m just trying to . . . work the counts here and there and still be aggressive at the same time.”

Gary Matthews Jr., who had a single Sunday, also has hit safely in all seven games this season.

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Reliever Chris Bootcheck, on the disabled list because of a strained muscle in his left side, threw two innings in an extended spring training game Saturday and Scioscia said he was making progress toward rejoining the team. Bootcheck could throw three innings his next time out and if everything goes well, Scioscia said, he’ll probably be sent out on a minor league rehabilitation assignment. . . . There is no timetable for right-hander Kelvim Escobar, out because of a slight tear in his shoulder. Escobar, an 18-game winner last year, continues to do strengthening exercises, but Scioscia said he probably won’t begin throwing for “a couple of weeks yet.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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