<
>

Angels' Wood still trying to find game

TORONTO -- For a while, the Los Angeles Angels could justify sticking with Brandon Wood because his glove was working better than his bat.

He wasn't getting hits, he was striking out a bit more than they'd like, but at least he was making all the plays when the ball came rolling his way.

That line of defense started eroding about a week ago and it crumbled a little more in Saturday's 6-3 Angels victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Wood made back-to-back errors in the third inning to put the heat on Angels starter Joe Saunders. Wood whiffed on a backhander with a runner approaching and yanked a ball into the dirt past Kendry Morales.

So, why do the Angels keep running a guy with a team-high error total and a team-low batting average out to third base on a near daily basis? The reason just might be standing about 100 feet across from him on the diamond: second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Eventually, young players -- if they're talented and confident enough -- tend to figure it out. Trouble is, there's no telling when it will happen.

In Kendrick's case, the confidence arrived four months into his first everyday job last year. If you'll recall, it was Kendrick who looked like the shaky rookie in the first half of 2009. After mashing a deep two-run home run and going three for five with three RBIs on Saturday, Kendrick could afford to give veteran advice to Wood, who is batting .088 with 11 strikeouts in 34 at-bats.

Kendrick and Wood were minor league teammates. Whether they remain major league teammates much longer will depend on Wood's progression, but Kendrick figures he has a fighting chance. Kendrick's turnaround happened after the Angels demoted him to Triple-A shortly after a tough series here in Toronto last June.

They don't have that outlet with Wood, who is out of options.

"I think things are going to work out for him. One day, he'll wake up and things are going to happen," Kendrick said. "The game's crazy. It'll turn around on you in a second."

The Angels seem to be rallying around Wood. Saunders waited for him after the inning in which two unearned runs scored after Wood's gaffe. Saunders patted Wood on the back side near the first-base line as he jogged past.

"I always try to stay positive with the defensive guys, because they make so many plays for me," Saunders said. "Like I've said before, they don't shake their heads when we give up dingers, so why should we shake our heads when they make mistakes? That's what makes a good team is the fact you can pick up your guys. He's in a little tough time."

Trends

Manager Mike Scioscia likes to call starting pitching the heartbeat of his club. For the first week, it was an irregular heartbeat.

Angels starting pitchers were giving up lots of home runs and tons of walks, putting their offense in a hole and their bullpen into scramble mode. But after Saunders' eight-inning mastery Saturday, the Angels have gotten dominant starts in three of the past four games.

Saunders is not unlike Joel Pineiro in that he pitches best when he works fast and coaxes plenty of groundballs. Both pitchers feature a sinking fastball.

"He was out there with a purpose the last two starts," Scioscia said. "I think the energy kept his delivery together and you couldn't pitch much better than Joe did this afternoon."

Lost in the shuffle

There's at least one thing Mike Napoli does well on defense: He blocks the plate.
Napoli weighs 215 pounds and he had his left foot planted firmly in front of the dish when Alex Gonzalez tried to score on Adam Lind's single in the eighth inning. Gonzalez clearly beat Reggie Willits' throw, but he couldn't get his left hand to the plate and umpire Marvin Hudson called him out. It looked to be the right call.

Gonzalez and Toronto manager Cito Gaston didn't win the ensuing argument.
Scioscia said Napoli can do more than block the plate when he has his defensive game in order. Jeff Mathis has caught nine of the Angels' first 12 games because of his superior defense.

"Nap has the tools to catch at a high level. He does," Scioscia said. "I think he showed signs of it when he first came up and he showed signs of it last year."

Quote of the day

"No problem. I know he's the closer. He's hurt right now, but that's Mike's decision. Whatever he says, I'll try to do it." -- Fernando Rodney, who has retired all nine batters he has faced in going three for three in save chances while Brian Fuentes is on the disabled list.

Looking ahead

Ervin Santana blamed umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's strike zone in part for his eight-hit, five-walk game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. He had better hope that story didn't reach the umpiring crew for this series, though Santana said he's not worried about retaliation from umpires.

Santana's stuff has been fairly sharp early, but he hasn't gotten results. He's 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA.

The Angels run into Toronto's best pitcher, Ricky Romero, a native of East Los Angeles and a graduate of Cal State Fullerton. Romero (1-0, 1.80 ERA) couldn't have started much better. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Texas in his first start, then struck out a career-high 12 batters against the White Sox on Tuesday.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLos Angeles.com.