- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As this season grows from the newborn phase into toddlerhood, the Los Angeles Angels find themselves monitoring their own development in two key areas.
The closer situation continues to weigh heavily on manager Mike Scioscia although it was never an issue Thursday. Starting pitcher Joe Saunders couldn't make it out of the third inning. Neither Brian Fuentes nor Fernando Rodney touched the mound, because the Angels never led.
No. 2 on Scioscia's mental checklist at the moment has to be third baseman Brandon Wood and how much longer the Angels' lineup can continue carrying him. It might depend how strong the other eight hitters' legs are at that moment.
Wood had another 0 for 3 piled onto a season that seems like nothing but blank nights and he's now officially the least-productive hitter in the majors. And Scioscia said he'll keep running him out there.
"I think there's a certain amount of frustration in his game," Scioscia said. "For a guy in his position right now, it's that one good at-bat, that one bloop hit, that two-hit game, just to get him going. It's a confidence thing right now."
By "confidence thing," Scioscia meant Wood's. At least officially, the team remains confident the 25-year old will eventually blossom into a major-league player.
If the rest of the Angels' lineup were clicking its way happily down the road, the team could continue to carry Wood as he tries to prove -- against all existing evidence -- that he's an everyday guy. Remember, he entered the season a .192 lifetime hitter.
No lineup can carry dead wood forever. Wood has the lowest batting average (.087) in baseball for a player with at least 45 at-bats. He has struck out 15 times in 46 at-bats. He hasn't gotten a hit on the homestand. As his confidence sinks, the Angels soon might have to save him from himself -- or the embarrassment of his numbers.
Thursday was a relatively robust day of clutch hitting for the Angels as a unit. They went three for nine with runners in scoring position, but it all came in the first three innings. When they could have broken through late, they came up with nothing but grinding molars and squeezed bats.
For the season they're batting .252 in those situations. Last year, they hit .297.
Frustration has been the prevailing theme for some of the Angels young hitters. Erick Aybar is working on his patience now that he's a leadoff hitter, but taking a fastball -- albeit a 96-mph one -- down the middle with two strikes and the bases loaded, as he did in the eighth inning, might be taking it a tad far.
The frustration wasn't limited to the young guys Thursday. Torii Hunter, who was at designated hitter on the night they gave him his ninth Gold Glove, hit into two double plays. The Angels had gotten the leadoff man on base to start the ninth against closer Jose Valverde, who threw five straight balls to start the inning. Then Hunter chopped one right to Brandon Inge for a routine double play. Ballgame essentially over.
Unlike in previous forays into the outfield, Hideki Matsui got a little action this time.
Making his second regular-season start in left field, Matsui looked a bit shaky going after Magglio Ordonez's first-inning RBI double. Matsui jogged gingerly to retrieve the ball, then dropped it on the warning track. He later chased a Gerald Laird double into the corner and caught a foul pop-up from Inge.
Matsui, who has an arthritic left knee, didn't embarrass himself and should get more starts in the outfield. He had a nice night at the plate, homering off Justin Verlander and going two for four. The Angels are hoping to play him in the field about once a week.
Scene and heard
Angels players were crammed onto clubhouse furniture getting ready to watch the start of the NFL draft. Just as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reached the podium to announce the first pick, Scioscia clicked off the TV and said, "Let's go. B.P."
Quote of the day
"We line up better if Brian is throwing the ball to his capabilities. That's obvious. We definitely want to give this a little time to see if that's the case. If that's not the case, we have some options to go to." -- Scioscia on Brian Fuentes' future as the team's closer.
Ervin Santana is coming off his best start of the season, a complete-game, four-hitter in the Angels' 3-1 win at Toronto. Santana, who had struggled with his command one start before in New York, needed only 106 pitches to dispatch the free-swinging Blue Jays.
Santana walked five Yankees when he faced them April 13 in the Bronx, then complained the next day that umpire Hunter Wendelstedt had a more favorable strike zone for Yankees veteran Andy Pettitte.
"That happens every time we play the Yankees or Boston," Santana said.
The Yankees typically don't fare very well when they travel to Angel Stadium. They lost two of their three ALCS games there last October and have lost 18 of their last 25 regular-season games in Anaheim.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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