Torii Hunter turns up power for Angels
The key to Torii Hunter’s torrid August, the Angels right fielder said, has been not trying to hit home runs.
“I’m not swinging for the fences,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to simplify everything, take what the pitcher gives me, hit singles up the middle and to right field.”
Hunter had some explaining to do Friday night, because it sure didn’t look like he was trying to line the ball up the middle or slap it to right field.
After a Peter Bourjos leadoff double, an Alberto Callaspo single and a Howie Kendrick run-scoring single, Hunter hit a towering three-run home run to left field to cap a four-run first inning.
Hunter then followed Callaspo’s single in the seventh by driving a two-run home run into the bullpen beyond the left-field wall to lead the Angels to an 8-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Angel Stadium.
“I closed my eyes and swung, man, I was lucky,” Hunter said after his third multi-homer game of the season and 16th of his career. “If I go to a casino right now and bet on black, I’d win.”
Hunter’s power seemed contagious. Bourjos added a solo shot to left in the second, and 20-year-old outfielder Mike Trout, who was called up from double-A Arkansas earlier Friday, slammed a solo shot to left-center in the eighth.
Right-hander Dan Haren didn’t waste the rare bounty, giving up three runs and nine hits, striking out eight and walking none in seven innings to improve to 13-6.
Hunter, who has 17 homers on the season, extended his hitting streak to 17 games and helped the Angels remain six games behind Texas in the American League West.
But he might have killed his reputation as a singles hitter.
“Sometimes, that’s what happens when you keep it simple, stupid,” he said. “That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Staying balanced, keeping my head down, staying short to the ball, and sometimes this happens when the wind is blowing.”
The first four months of Hunter’s season were marked by inconsistent production, nagging injuries and far too many double-play grounders.
July was particularly rough — Hunter hit .209 (19 for 91) — and when he went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in Detroit on July 31, his average fell to .232.
A phone call from former Minnesota Twins teammate Matt Lawton, who Hunter said told him to “keep your head down,” helped, but so did a mental adjustment.
“I got hungry,” Hunter said. “I want to play in October, so I’m trying to have playoff at-bats. You go to another level.”
On Aug. 2, Manager Mike Scioscia took Hunter out of the second spot and dropped him to third or fourth.
Hunter responded with a 17-game tear in which he has hit .429 (27 for 63) with four homers and 13 RBIs to raise his season average to .259. He has the second-highest August average in the major leagues.
“But it’s going to take more than Torii,” Scioscia said. “We can’t just wait for a guy who is hot to hit the ball in key situations.”
Maybe the highly touted Trout can help. With Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu slumping, Trout will play regularly. He put a charge into a Kevin Gregg pitch Friday night, lining it out of the park for his second homer of the year.
“That was loud,” Scioscia said. “He’s an exciting player for a lot of reasons, and one is his power potential. He has strong opposite-field power, and he can turn on the ball.
“He might not do it on a consistent basis, because that’s not his approach — he doesn’t have a classic home run swing. But he’s going to be an exciting offensive player because his power is going to develop.”
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