Two weeks ago, after a torrid eight-game stretch in which he hit .412 (14 for 34) with four home runs and 11 runs batted in, Vladimir Guerrero said through an interpreter that “the way I feel at the plate right now is the best I’ve felt all season. It’s all due to my legs. The strength is back. I’m glad it’s at a point where it’s not a problem.”
Monday, those legs were a problem, one that concerned Manager Mike Scioscia enough to decommission the Angels slugger for at least two and probably all three games of the series with the Oakland Athletics.
Scioscia stressed that Guerrero, who is batting .287 with 23 home runs and 78 runs batted in, didn’t tweak his right knee, which bothered the right fielder in the first half, legging out a run-scoring triple in the eighth inning of the Angels’ win over Minnesota on Sunday.
But the combination of three games on Tampa Bay’s artificial surface last week and the fatigue often associated with the “dog days” of August prompted Scioscia to take measures he believes will prevent serious injury to his cleanup batter.
“We’re trying to keep his knee and his lower half where it is, and it’s important to give him a couple of days to rebound, to re-charge,” Scioscia said. “If we keep going with him now, we could set him back from playing defense and running the bases.”
Scioscia said he would have sidelined Guerrero this week even if the Angels were in a dogfight for the division title and not in first place by 17 games, as they were before Monday’s game.
But with such a huge lead, Scioscia will have the luxury of resting his front-line players in hopes of avoiding the injuries that sapped the Angels late in 2007, a season that ended with a lopsided, division series sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
The cushion “doesn’t make the decision easier or harder” to rest Guerrero, Scioscia said. “If the medical staff thinks a player is at heightened risk, he needs time off. And he needs it now.”
Guerrero didn’t take batting practice Monday. Neither did center fielder Torii Hunter, who went through a lengthy early workout and video session with hitting coach Mickey Hatcher.
Hunter was batting .159 (seven for 44) with one RBI in his previous 11 games.
“I did this a lot in Minnesota, especially late in the season,” said Hunter, who started in center field and hit cleanup Monday night. “There are no problems physically. I feel great.”
Before his slump, Hunter was the hottest hitter on the team, with a .400 average (24 for 60), seven homers and 22 RBIs in his first 16 games after the All-Star break.
“I think it’s more of a mental adjustment. If I think a guy’s going to pitch me inside, I’ll pull off a bit. If I think he’s going to pitch me away, I’ll close up a bit. Sometimes you out-think yourself,” Hunter said.
The Angels were awaiting results of an MRI exam on Garret Anderson’s left knee, which he injured making a play in left field in the first inning Sunday, but the injury does not appear serious, and Anderson could return to the starting lineup tonight or Wednesday.
Anderson, who left Sunday’s game in the second inning, said he felt good during batting practice Monday and entered the game as a pinch-hitter, grounding out in the eighth inning. “I didn’t have to think about it when I was out there, and I was able to put pressure on it,” Anderson said before the game.
With Anderson and Guerrero out, utility infielder Sean Rodriguez and designated hitter Robb Quinlan were Scioscia’s outfield backups in case a starter got injured.
But reinforcements are on the way. Reggie Willits, on the disabled list because of a mild concussion, worked out with the Angels on Sunday and Monday and is expected to be activated for tonight’s game.