Commentary

Bobby Abreu is still swinging

The Angels might be playing for 2011, but their veteran slugger hits for today

Updated: August 10, 2010, 2:39 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Amid the clutter at the bottom of Bobby Abreu's locker Monday night was a little white disk inscribed with the words, "Kansas City starting pitching, August 2010."

Abreu spends a lot of quality time with the Los Angeles Angels' video coordinator, Diego Lopez. When he's not with Lopez studying video of opposing pitchers, Abreu takes it home or to his hotel room with him. He pops it into his laptop, studying little details of a pitcher's delivery.

It was in one of these late-night cram sessions that Abreu noticed something about former teammate Sean O'Sullivan. He tends to leave his changeup high in the strike zone. That helped Abreu whack a two-run home run Monday, a banner evening in an otherwise aggravating season for the veteran of 14 seasons.

The Los Angeles Angels played their first home game of 2010 that felt utterly meaningless on Monday. The teams looked marginally interested; the fans seemed generally bored.

Angels
AP Photo/Alex GallardoEven while fighting off a slump, Bobby Abreu remains the Angels' most patient hitter.

That's what happens when you come home from a 2-4 trip to Baltimore and Detroit, your pennant hopes dragging behind you down the runway. What did the Angels expect, a hero's welcome at the airport?

Unless you believe in miracles -- and chopping off 8½ games with 45 to go with this mushy-in-the-middle lineup qualifies as that -- what exactly does this team have left to play for? You could see glimmers of motivation in Monday's 6-4 win over the Kansas City Royals.

There's always next year, of course. Monday's opponent knows all about that. Whether the Angels admit it or not, plugging Peter Bourjos, 23, into center field every day for the next seven weeks has as much to do with 2011 as it does with locking down the outfield defense for 2010.

And yeah, there's pride. It's been a disastrous season for veterans like Abreu, one of the savviest hitters of a generation.

Nobody pays more attention to his approach than Abreu, one of the few Angels who has one most days. It looked like Abreu was lying in wait for the 22-year-old O'Sullivan on Monday night. He looped a single to right in his first at-bat, smashed a double into the gap in his second and hit the towering home run in his third.

"Bobby has that experience. He's always studying release points, trying to track the ball," manager Mike Scioscia said.

Since Scioscia plugged Abreu into the leadoff spot, the Angels are 3-1. It's a sample size so small as to border on meaningless, but the move has merit. Abreu is easily the Angels' most patient hitter. If nothing else, the rest of the lineup should have a good idea what a pitcher is working with by the time Abreu's first-inning at-bat is over.

Abreu had a spillover effect on the rest of the Angels' offense last year, infusing some patience into what had been one of the jumpiest lineups in the majors. Abreu was a lifetime .299 hitter coming into this season. His on-base percentage was .404.

When you've been playing as long as Abreu has, it doesn't take long for people to connect your underperformance with your age. Abreu is 36. The Angels already have acknowledged Abreu's defense is eroding. They plopped him in left field, otherwise known as the warmup circle for being a designated hitter.

Scioscia swears Abreu has been hitting a lot of balls in the center of the bat. They just happen to be landing in the other teams' gloves. Abreu hadn't had a three-hit game since July 9. He came into Monday batting .253, on a collision course with his worst season since he stuck with the Houston Astros 13 years ago.

Abreu insists he's still got the physical talent to make all that experience and study mean something when he steps in the batter's box.

"You feel it when your swing starts to go slow. I'm fine," Abreu said. "My swing is good; it's quick. I still hit the ball all over the place. I'll say this, it's a tough year for me. We've got this month and next month, too. I think I have a little time to recover."

Quote of the day

"I take the blame for us underperforming. ... I've had some sleepless nights, I can guarantee you that." -- Scioscia

Looking ahead

Dan Haren (0-2, 3.60 ERA) is winless in his past six starts entering Tuesday night, three of them since he was traded to the Angels. It's the longest streak in Haren's career without a win. Most of it isn't Haren's fault. In fact, he has 32 strikeouts and just five walks in his past five starts.

The Angels face converted reliever Bryan Bullington (0-1, 5.14 ERA), who continues to lead the Pacific Coast League in ERA. Tuesday will be Bullington's first major league start since Sept. 28, 2008, when he was with the Cleveland Indians.

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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