Commentary

Wrong time for defensive lapse

Updated: April 11, 2010, 9:22 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM -- Playing at Yankee Stadium tends to be a sink-or-swim experience for young players in the American League, but it might feel like wading into the kiddie pool to Brandon Wood.

The Los Angeles Angels' third baseman didn't have the happiest first week playing in Anaheim.

He managed one single in his first 19 at-bats, giving him an opening-week batting average of .053. Until Sunday, he could say he was making all the plays in the field.

But at a pivotal point in Sunday's 9-4 loss to the Oakland A's, Wood made his first appreciable defensive lapse. He played back on Mark Ellis' chopper in the hole in the eighth, then threw softly to first for an error that opened the door for the A's to score three unearned runs.

When Wood took a called third strike and walked off the field in the seventh, some fans booed.

The Angels' veterans have varied their tacks with Wood. After a three-strikeout night on Opening Day, Wood spent a large chunk of the next afternoon at his locker getting advice from Torii Hunter. Hunter said nobody has talked to Wood in the past couple of days.

Joe Saunders
AP Photo/Jae C. HongJoe Saunders got into the seventh inning having allowed just one hit, but things started unraveling quickly after that.

The 25-year-old seems to have it in perspective, even if some Angels fans might be wondering if he'll ever contribute.

"It might be hard to believe, but my head's not all jammed up with a bunch of negative stuff," Wood said. "I realize as a player I've got 19-20 at-bats or something like that. There's a lot of time to start swinging it and this is as bad as it's going to get for me. From an offensive standpoint, it can only go up."

The Angels aren't showing any signs of pulling the plug on the Wood experiment after just one week. He started five of the team's first seven games and manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to give Wood a chance to get his feet under him.

Famously, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt batted .196 with 136 strikeouts in his first full season. The difference is the 1973 Philadelphia Phillies were coming off a 97-loss season. They finished 20 games under .500 and sixth in their division. The Angels have considerably higher hopes for their 2010 team.

It's impossible for Wood to know how much leeway they'll give him to iron out his flaws. Backup third baseman Maicer Izturis batted .300 last year and can play third base at least as well as Wood can.

"There's some urgency when you're a young guy getting an opportunity to get hits, but I feel like it's going to come," Wood said. "Those numbers aren't me and I know that. I feel like once I get going, I won't look back."

Trends

Scot Shields wasn't rude or brusque. He just didn't want to talk about it.

The last time he'd talked about the Angels' bullpen -- and compared it favorably to the 2002 team's -- bad things started happening. Then they kept happening. Angels relievers have gone from dominant -- 11 scoreless innings to start the season -- to demoralizing.

The bullpen blew its second consecutive lead Sunday and has surrendered 14 earned runs in its past 11 innings. Things got out of control Sunday, with the Oakland A's scoring eight times in the final three innings, aided by five walks.

And this is the bullpen that has a chance to be the best since Scioscia arrived 11 seasons ago?

Shields did agree to talk about his part in the drama. He gave up a leadoff hit to Rajai Davis, who reached third after a steal and a sacrifice. Shields pitched around Ryan Sweeney, walked Kevin Kouzmanoff, then watched Wood make the error.

The call at first could have gone either way. It was that close.

"Bang-bang plays are part of the game. We've got to do a better job of shutting the door right there," Shields said. "I've got to do a better job of keeping the score close to give us a chance."

Lost in the shuffle

Joe Saunders picked up the tempo and for six innings the A's couldn't keep up.

Working quickly, Saunders got into the seventh inning having allowed just one hit -- Adam Rosales' solo home run. Things started unraveling in the seventh when Sweeney hit a seeing-eye grounder through the right side, Kouzmanoff blooped one to right and Ellis sliced an RBI single to right.

Still, it was a night-and-day improvement over Saunders' first start, in which he allowed five runs on eight hits in five innings. The bottom line is Saunders is 0-2 after two starts.

"Yeah, it's very aggravating, especially because we're not where we want to be right now, obviously," Saunders said.

Quote of the day

"I really want one of those. I want that popsicle. I've checked out everybody's over the last 12-13 years and it gives you a little motivation." -- Torii Hunter on watching the Yankees get their World Series rings Tuesday.

Look ahead

The Angels are off Monday. The team travels to New York to begin a six-game road trip that finishes Sunday in Toronto.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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