Commentary

Aybar's injury leaves Angels vulnerable

With this latest setback, L.A. has to wonder how long its infield can hold up

Updated: June 16, 2010, 11:30 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If the news on Erick Aybar's injured left knee is so hopeful, as the Los Angeles Angels are claiming, why is the team being so coy about offering details?

Officially, the team described the injury as "meniscal damage." What that means is that something bad happened to the cartilage pad in Aybar's knee when Milwaukee Brewers slugger Casey McGehee barreled into it Monday night. But what, exactly?

The Angels didn't allow any of their medical personnel to discuss the injury on Tuesday and Aybar wasn't in public view. Scioscia said neither the term "torn," nor "surgery" has come up in his discussions with doctors.

That's odd, since a few breaths earlier, Scioscia was saying, "Sometimes, these things just hit a wall and you don't feel any better and you have to go in and do something."

[+] EnlargeErick Aybar
AP Photo/Jae C. HongIf Erick Aybar is out for an extended period, the Angels have to wonder how long their infield can stay afloat.

It would seem that "go in and do something" and "surgery" aren't such far-flung notions. The good news was that an MRI exam didn't indicate any torn ligaments or tendons or any damage to the knee cap, all of which could have cost Aybar the rest of his season and threatened his future effectiveness. But if you think he's going to be out there playing acrobatic shortstop in a matter of days, you probably haven't seen a lot of knee injuries.

Shortstop isn't like first base or catcher, or even third base. The way Aybar plays it, ranging into the shallow outfield for grounders, diving for pop-ups and contorting his body on double-play turns, you need a pair of healthy legs.

"We know the level he has be to do the things out on the field," Scioscia said. "He's playing a position that demands agility and range."

There's a strong likelihood that Aybar will spend some time on the 15-day disabled list and it's not a stretch to wonder if he'll be out for weeks. When Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero tore his meniscus in April, he had to undergo surgery and missed two months. The New York Mets' Johan Santana pitched on a torn meniscus for a month in 2008, but eventually underwent surgery.

The question is: At what point does the Angels' infield become too undermanned to keep the team afloat. Already, this team has lost one of the game's elite and improving sluggers, first baseman Kendry Morales. The third baseman, Brandon Wood, is back, but he's still carrying around that embarrassing batting average (now .152).

Can an infield that, on a daily basis, includes Kevin Frandsen, Maicer Izturis and Mike Napoli (playing out of position) carry a team to a pennant?

When Angels pitcher Ervin Santana was asked how much the team would lose if Aybar is out for a while, he talked about Aybar's defense -- which is borderline Gold Glove -- and his improving fortunes in the leadoff spot. Santana then admitted, "It's going to be a little difficult for us."

Of course, this team went 12-3 in its first 15 games without Morales, so who knows? The problem with that notion is that injuries are cumulative. Add up enough of them to the wrong people and you simply can't keep up with an unrelenting schedule.

The Angels' first game without Aybar certainly wasn't as good as their first game without Morales. They fell flat against a starting pitcher, Dave Bush, who entered the game with a 1-5 record and 5.06 ERA. The night before, they had been utterly dismantled by Randy Wolf, who has been struggling as well.

Maybe the Angels read too many of their press clippings after an 11-3 road trip, because they have appeared to be in a fog the past two nights. Trailing 6-0 in the seventh inning, with No. 5 hitter Hideki Matsui at the plate and nobody out, Torii Hunter inexplicably tried to steal third base.

The Angels live and die with aggressive base running, but this dash seemed a bit ill-timed with the Angels desperate for base runners. Matsui, by the way, later reached base on an infield single.

Hunter, who inadvertently carried a ball over the fence for a home run Monday night, is not the only Angel who has looked a bit befuddled since this homestand started. The two starting pitchers, Joe Saunders and Santana, combined to give up 16 hits, including three home runs, and neither one pitched through the sixth inning. Maybe they got used to life on the road. Fourteen straight games away from home can do that to you.

"I guess we have to keep playing with gray uniforms," Santana said.

Endurance test

Jeff Mathis went 1-for-4 Tuesday night for Triple-A Salt Lake in what should be his second-to-last rehab start. Scioscia said Mathis will play a few innings in Wednesday's game with the Bees and, if all goes well, he'll join the Angels in time for their game at Wrigley Field on Friday.

Mathis' return should help the Angels pitchers. He is the team's best defensive catcher and pitch-caller.

"Jeff brings a special presence back there and that's something these guys feed off of," Scioscia said.

Quote of the day

"I don't know if we hit the ball that well. Bush wasn't doing anything fancy out there. He just changed speeds and pitched. Those guys made plays behind him and we couldn't rally any momentum." -- Scioscia.

Looking ahead

The Angels need to pitch a little better to have a chance at redeeming themselves and winning one of the three games in this series. They give the ball Wednesday to sinkerball specialist Joel Pineiro (5-6, 4.77 ERA), who pitched his third complete game of the season Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

Pineiro, who pitched two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, has a lifetime 3-0 record with a 3.35 ERA against the Brewers.

The Angels face struggling left-hander Chris Narveson (5-3, 5.46).

Shadows have been a problem in previous 4:05 p.m. starts. The last time he started one of these, Pineiro was briefly blinded by the sun during a few deliveries in the sixth inning. Outfielders Bobby Abreu and Hunter have been critical of the twilight games.

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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