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Angels' Kole Calhoun is looking to make more contact at the plate

Angels' Kole Calhoun is looking to make more contact at the plate
Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun takes live batting practice before teammate Craig Gentry (3)on Sunday in Tempe, Ariz. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The marriage of power and strikeouts has become so ingrained in the game that managers, coaches, players and fans barely blink at the statistical line of a slugger who hits 35 home runs and whiffs 150 times.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout was selected the American League's most valuable player after hitting .287 with 36 home runs, 111 runs batted in and 115 runs in 2014. He also led the league with 184 strikeouts.

Kole Calhoun's 2015 power surge came at the expense of some contact. The right fielder hit 26 home runs with 83 RBIs, up from the 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 2014. But his strikeouts soared from 104 in 2014 to 164 last season, including 48 in 31 games starting Sept. 1.

If Calhoun was a middle-of-the-order slugger, those strikeouts wouldn't be a huge concern. But as an important table-setter for the Angels, one who is again expected to hit in front of Trout and Albert Pujols this season, Calhoun knows those strikeout numbers need to come down.

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"As a whole, we'd like to get things going more on the offensive side, and that starts with getting on base and finding any way to score," the left-handed-hitting Calhoun said. "There are a bunch of ways to go about it.

"I think the walk rate can definitely improve. I have to have a better two-strike approach, to try to put a ball in play with two strikes. Scoring runs has always been a part of my game. That's what I'm focused on."

Calhoun's .256 average, .308 on-base percentage and .422 slugging percentage last season were down from .272/.325/.450 in 2014.

According to Fangraphs, Calhoun's O-Swing rate, which measures the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside of the strike zone, was 32.3%, a point above the major league average and 0.6% higher than in 2014.

But his first-pitch strike percentage jumped from 60.5% in 2014 to 64.6% in 2015, an indication pitchers attacked Calhoun more aggressively. The league average first-pitch strike rate was 60.9%.

Calhoun hit .213 and struck out 115 times after falling behind in the count, 0 and 1. He hit .259 with 49 strikeouts after 1-and-0 counts. He hit .144 on two-strike counts.

Players will often choke up or shorten their swing with two strikes, but Calhoun declined to say how he might adjust his two-strike approach this season.

"I can't be giving my secrets away, man," said Calhoun, who will be paid $3.4 million this season. "I just want to get on base. That's the No. 1 thing, whether there's no strikes or two strikes. Just battle, put up a good at-bat for the team."

The high strikeout rate and low OBP were counterbalanced by acrobatic catches and a strong throwing arm that garnered Calhoun a Gold Glove.

The Angels won't overlook the strikeouts, but they won't dwell on them.

"Kole is not trying to hit the ball out of the park. He's not trying to strike out," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The overall feeling is, 'Hey, battle in every situation.'

"You're not playing for numbers, you're playing to help win a game, and hopefully you do enough. When you add up all the numbers, some will point in different directions, but Kole had a terrific year for us."

Short hops

In order to meet MLB guidelines for fan safety, the Angels have extended the protective netting behind the plate in Angel Stadium by about 10 feet on each side of the infield, said Tim Mead, the team's vice president of communications. The total area of the netting, which will be about 25 1/2 feet high, will increase from 3,056 square feet in 2015 to 3,584 square feet. … Trout spent part of Saturday afternoon at a news conference to demonstrate a "smart bat" powered by Zepp technology that includes a sensor that can capture data such as bat speed and swing angle.

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