- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Joel Pineiro grew up in Latin America, but he wasn't much of a soccer player.
"Never," he said. "I'm not a big soccer fan."
Nor did he play any hockey goalie.
"In Puerto Rico, we've got no ice rinks," he said.
But he is definitely more than just a pitcher. He's also an extra infielder, and it makes sense he would develop those skills, since Pineiro, a sinker-ball specialist, makes a living these days inducing ground balls. In fact, on a sharp comebacker in the seventh inning of Monday's 2-0 win over the Detroit Tigers, Pineiro saved a run by kicking a ball headed up the middle right to shortstop Erick Aybar.
Pineiro had no idea where the ball would end up, but he was, indeed, trying to stop it.
"I got lucky," Pineiro said. "It went right to Aybar."
Pineiro flashed all his skills Monday night, practically dancing around nine Detroit hits to pitch a second straight gem. He not only throws a mean sinker, but he can mix in a sharp curveball from time to time to break a hitter's rhythm. He's also got a good idea what he's doing with his glove and, not that it matters, but he can hit a little bit, too, especially for a guy who started out in the American League.
"He's a really good athlete," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
The crowd of 36,006 gave Pineiro a smattering of applause when he left the game in favor of reliever Kevin Jepsen in the eighth inning. For the second start in a row, Pineiro didn't walk a batter.
He's become a leader, of sorts, for the Angels' rotation. In the Angels' past five wins, they've walked one man combined. Pineiro makes a habit of forcing hitters to hit their way on base. He walked a batter, on average, once every eight innings last year.
The Angels (7-7) haven't bulldozed their way back to .500 after a 2-6 start. They've finessed their way back. This revival has been led by the pitching, both starting and relief. The Angels have won five of their past six games. In those wins, starters are 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA.
As for nudging back to .500, Scioscia wouldn't touch it. He never does.
"Our record's irrelevant. We've played, what, 14 games?" Scioscia said. "We have a long way to go. There's no sense even looking at the standings. They have no bearing on what we have to do day to day."
Brian Fuentes buzzed through a 1-2-3 rehab inning at Class A Lake Elsinore, getting a fly ball, a groundout and a strikeout. On Tuesday, trainers will examine Fuentes, who had a stiff back, but expect him to be activated from the 15-day disabled list before Wednesday's game.
The plan, according to Scioscia, is to put Fuentes right back into his closer's role. Fernando Rodney has pitched four perfect innings in save situations while Fuentes was out. He also had the best save percentage in baseball last year.
"We'll have a good look with Brian closing games and bringing Fernando in a little earlier, probably in the eighth inning," Scioscia said. "Hopefully we'll have a power arm every night to hold leads."
Scioscia did reserve the right to change his mind, which would be far from surprising. Rodney has converted 44 of his past 45 save chances going back to last year. Kevin Jepsen also could emerge as a ninth-inning option. He got two big outs in the eighth when the Tigers had two runners on with one out.
"It's definitely exciting when you're coming in with runners on, especially when you're facing hitters like that," Jepsen said.
Catcher Jeff Mathis caught a pitch off his right hand in the eighth inning. Mathis remained in the game, but was scheduled for precautionary X-rays and likely will miss a game or two, at the least.
If Mathis broke his hand, it could be a big blow to the Angels. He's not only their best defensive catcher, but he's one of their hottest hitters. Mathis is riding a career-high 10-game hitting streak. Including last year's playoffs, he's on a 14-game hitting streak.
"I'm sure he'll put a lot of ice on it tonight and, hopefully, it's just a bruise and we'll see when he gets back out there," Scioscia said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"He's a better offensive player than his lifetime numbers show, that's for sure." -- Scioscia on Mathis, a .205 lifetime hitter.
Scott Kazmir said he feels confident going into his second start, which is saying something since he gave up three home runs at Yankee Stadium in his first try. He vows to stop tinkering as much with his slider and to concentrate on locating his pitches better. Against the Yankees, he often fell behind and threw fastballs over the middle of the plate.
Kazmir didn't face the Tigers last year. He's 2-4 with a 4.29 ERA lifetime against them.
The Angels face Rick Porcello, Detroit's 21-year-old emerging star. Porcello labored in his last start, needing 27 pitches to get through the first inning, but he managed to get through six.
More than a pitcher, Joel Pineiro worked all sides of the plate - and the infield.