Commentary

Mark Trumbo filling in nicely

The Angels may have finally found a replacement for the injured Kendrys Morales

Updated: May 29, 2011, 8:56 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Maybe it was best that the Los Angeles Angels were on the road, playing half a continent away in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday.

They haven't touched home plate at Angel Stadium much lately anyway, and the last guy to make contact with it on May 29 wound up sprawled across it in agony. Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Kendrys Morales' season-and-season-ending ankle injury.

Needless to say, May 29 is not a happy date for the Angels. They've gone 84-82 since Morales went up, came down and stayed down.

[+] EnlargeMark Trumbo
AP Photo/Genevieve RossMark Trumbo hit what may have been the longest Angels home run of the season against the Twins on Sunday, adding some punch to a struggling lineup.

Sunday could have been a lot more somber, of course, if the Angels hadn't gotten a bunch of little hits off Carl Pavano to win 6-5 and if Mark Trumbo hadn't hit one of the longest home runs of the season, nestling it deep into the second deck. The Angels have had a brutal time finding Morales' replacement and Trumbo, perhaps in conjunction with veteran Russell Branyan at times, could be their best shot at forgetting about him for a while.

Erick Aybar's slashing is a better snap shot of this Angels offense than Trumbo's trotting, of course, but these guys aren't going anywhere if they can't hit for at least a semblance of power. Manager Mike Scioscia said he's striving for offensive balance, which is probably why they signed Branyan, a guy who really only does two good things: walk and hit home runs.

A lineup of guys who stand under 5-foot-11 and rarely lift the ball higher than their stature doesn't suggest balance. It suggests a jockey-training school.

Trumbo and Branyan, tall, strapping guys, at least give a pitcher pause before he throws it in a spot like the one reliever Jim Hoey did Sunday -- belly-button high, inner half of the plate, Trumbo's launch zone. It was Trumbo's ninth home run of the season, his third in the past nine games. If he keeps hitting like this, he might find himself drifting down in the batting order, perhaps to No. 5 or so, where he can connect with the only other hitters making noise in this lineup.

The Angels have had the hardest time finding Morales' replacement, but maybe he was right under their nose, learning all the while. Trumbo grew up about a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium. He led the Pacific Coast League in home runs last year.

Nobody thought to draft him until the 18th round in 2004 and, at the time, the Angels thought he was a pitcher. When he got his physical after being signed, team physician Lewis Yocum found some irregularities in his shoulder. He used to throw about 94 mph at Villa Park High School. Now, he's just a strong-armed first baseman. Sounds a bit like Morales, who did some pitching for the Cuban national team and threw bullets down to second base when he was trying to start 3-6-3 double plays.

Maybe Trumbo could do a little pitching if the Angels ever get in another marathon game like the one they slogged through in Boston earlier this year. The Angels would prefer he keep mashing the ball.

Since Morales went down, the Angels have tried 10 different guys at first base. Among them are names like Paul McAnulty, Michael Ryan, Kevin Frandsen, Brandon Wood and Juan Rivera. Between the 10 of them, they managed 27 home runs in 165 games. The ones not named Trumbo hit a home run about every other week, not exactly the power pace you're looking for out of your first baseman.

Morales looked like a star on the cusp before he decided to take that little hop, slipped on the plate and broke the skinny part of his leg bone in a way that's hard to fix. After he finally got a shot at an everyday job with the Angels, he batted .301 with 48 doubles, 45 home runs and 147 RBIs in 203 games.

Now, he's resting in bed or on a couch somewhere, a few days after undergoing a second surgery to fix his ankle and the Angels are doing their best to forget about him until February 2012 or so. It makes it a lot easier when Trumbo sends fans scattering in the cheap seats.

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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