Remember that renewed emphasis on plate discipline the Angels stressed in spring training? It hasn’t exactly carried over into the regular season, especially for two young players the team was focusing heavily on, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
The middle infielders seemed to make progress in Arizona, both drawing eight walks in exhibition play, more than half their totals for the 2008 season. But going into tonight’s game against the Boston Red Sox, Kendrick has two walks in 110 at-bats, and Aybar has three walks in 68 at-bats.
According to , 36.3% of the pitches at which Kendrick has swung, and 38.1% of the pitches at which Aybar has swung, have been out of the strike zone, among the lowest marks in the American League.
Kendrick has seen an average of 3.71 pitches per plate appearance, a considerable improvement over 2008, when he had a 3.45 average. Aybar has seen an average of 3.13 pitches per plate appearance, one of the lowest figures in the league.
Is there a direct correlation between plate discipline and production? Yes, but it’s sometimes difficult to measure.
Aybar, though he would appear to lack plate discipline, is tied for second on the team with a .309 average 30 games into 2009.
Kendrick, a .306 career hitter before the season, is batting only .245 and leads the team with 24 strikeouts. But he also has four home runs and ranks second on the team with 19 runs batted in.
“Plate discipline doesn’t always translate into walks,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Aybar is not forcing a lot of walks, but when he gets into hitting counts, he’s showing plate discipline to not give those counts back to the pitcher. He’s swinging at good pitches.
“With Howie, he’s expanded the strike zone too much at times, but he’s also a guy who, when it kicks in, it kicks in good for a long time. He’s shown flashes of it. We’re not concerned about him from the offensive end.”
As a team, 26.8% of the pitches at which the Angels have swung have been out of the strike zone, fourth-worst in the AL.
But the Angels, who have won four consecutive games, rank third in the league with a .278 average and they’ve averaged 5.6 runs in 17 games since April 22. They rank ninth in the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs.
“All we can do is keep emphasizing it,” hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, when asked about plate discipline. “I think they’re getting better at it, but it might take a few years.”
The Red Sox could be without the right side of their starting infield tonight at Angel Stadium.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis, who leads the AL in average (.393) and on-base percentage (.505), has sat out six consecutive games because of tightness in his left side and remains questionable.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, the 2008 AL most valuable player, left Sunday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the third inning because of a strained right groin and is expected to sit out at least the opener of a three-game series.
The Angels will not face Boston ace Josh Beckett, who, in his last start in Anaheim on April 12, fired a pitch near the head of Bobby Abreu, sparking a benches-clearing incident and heated words between the teams.
Beckett, who drew a five-game suspension because of his actions, pitched Sunday night against the Rays.
Catch of the day
Torii Hunter received a verbal tip of the cap from Miguel Olivo, who hit the ball that the Angels center fielder turned into a highlight reel, making a spectacular leap to rob the Kansas City Royals catcher of a tying, ninth-inning home run and preserving the Angels’ 4-3 win.
“It was gone,” Olivo told the Kansas City Star. “I knew that. Then he jumped and caught the ball. Wow. He’s the best in the league. That wasn’t his first one, and that’s not going to be his last one. He does it all of the time. This time, it was to me.”
With it appearing more and more likely that Vladimir Guerrero will be relegated to a designated-hitter role when he returns from a torn chest muscle, Scioscia says he will keep Abreu in right field, the position he has played for most of his career.
Abreu had been shifting between left field and right field, “but we think it would be more comfortable for him to play his more natural position,” Scioscia said.
“If Vladdy is able to play right field later in the season, we’ll adjust from there.”
Where: Angel Stadium.
On the air: TV: FS West. Radio: 830, 980, 1330.
Pitchers: Jered Weaver vs. Justin Masterson.
Matt Palmer (3-0, 3.06) vs. Tim Wakefield (4-1, 2.93) Wednesday, 7 p.m.; Joe Saunders (5-1, 2.66) vs. Brad Penny (3-1, 6.90) Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
Update: Weaver is coming off the best game of his career, a complete-game, one-run, three-hit, eight-strikeout, no-walk effort in Thursday night’s 6-1 win over Toronto. The right-hander has a 2-2 record and 4.46 earned-run average in seven career starts against the Red Sox, including an emotional 6-3 win over them April 10, the Angels’ first game after the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart. The Red Sox made an intriguing roster move Sunday, calling up reliever Daniel Bard from triple-A Pawtucket. The right-hander’s fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, and he has good movement on it. Bard has struck out 29 batters in 16 innings this season.
-- Mike DiGiovanna