CHICAGO -- Closers are empathetic. They know the pressures they face and feel for peers going through hard times. This is especially true of the Angels' Brian Fuentes with respect to Trevor Hoffman, a man he has admired for years.
With five blown saves in 10 attempts for the Brewers this season, Hoffman is in the midst of the worst slump of his illustrious career. The all-time saves leader is four away from becoming the first man to 600, but he has been getting knocked around so severely there are questions if he'll be able to retain his hold on the job.
Hoffman, at 42, seems mystified by his struggles. After going 37-for-41 in save opportunities in '09, the former Padres closer is burdened by a 13.15 ERA, a .356 opponents' batting average and seven home runs allowed -- five more than all last season.
"I have so much respect for Trevor," Fuentes said, shaking his head. "Great pitcher, great competitor, great guy. I really hope he comes out of this and gets to 600. He deserves it. He's been a credit to the game."
Fuentes' own struggles -- two blown saves in seven attempts, 6.52 ERA, four homers in 9 2/3 innings -- pale in comparison to those of Hoffman.
Offense continues to misfire
CHICAGO -- Mike Scioscia is a patient man, but his boundaries are being tested by the Angels' offense.
If the manager had to issue first-quarter grades like his mother, Florence, a lifelong teacher, Scioscia would be hard-pressed to award many A's, or B's for that matter.
Among the club's regulars, only Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Howard Kendrick have come anywhere close to their offensive projections. The others have underachieved to varying degrees. Hunter probably would warrant a B-plus, Morales a B-minus, Kendrick a C-plus. Everyone else would be hoping for a C but expecting worse.
Entering play Thursday, the Angels, with 174 runs, had been outscored by 35. An offense that produced runs at a record pace one year ago -- finishing with a club record 883, averaging 5.5 -- was averaging 4.5. One fewer run per game is a significant outage.
"First and foremost, this offense has to get going to take some pressure off the pitching staff," Scioscia said. "On the offensive side, too many guys have been soft for a long time. We haven't gotten that continuity. We have a lot of confidence in what our offense can do."
Things have picked up for Bobby Abreu and Hunter since they were moved into the third and fourth spots in the order before a weekend sweep of the A's at Angel Stadium. But the table-setters in front continue to struggle.
The Angels' on-base percentage of .309 -- last in the AL -- is down from .350 last season. The slugging percentage has dropped from .441 to .392, the team batting average from a club-record .285 to .248, 11th in the league. The team has been out-hit in every department, producing seven fewer homers than opponents, and here's the stunner: The Angels had stolen seven fewer bases than the opposition.
There's plenty of blame to go around for a 19-23 start -- the bullpen is last in the AL with its 5.20 ERA, the rotation ninth at 4.41 -- but the underachieving offense bears the brunt of it.
Frandsen gets start at third
CHICAGO -- Kevin Frandsen, who is familiar with White Sox starter Jake Peavy from their days as National League West rivals, was in the lineup at third base in Thursday night's series finale at U.S. Cellular Field, replacing struggling Brandon Wood.
"It's probably as much giving Brandon a blow as getting Kevin some at-bats," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. The frustration of Wood, 7-for-his-last-57 (.123) with 36 strikeouts in 36 games, has become apparent to Scioscia.
Frandsen, who came up with the Giants as a second baseman, faced Peavy 10 times with two hits when Peavy was the ace of the Padres staff. That might not seem like much, but there isn't a hitter on Scioscia's roster with a career average higher than .250 against the gifted right-hander.
Bobby Abreu entered 3-for-12 (.250) with two walks, striking out four times. Torii Hunter was 1-for-4 with an RBI. Juan Rivera (0-for-5) and Kendry Morales (0-for-4) were looking for their first hits against Peavy.
As the Angels head to St. Louis for the season's first series of Interleague Play against the Cardinals this weekend, they'll be made keenly aware of the risks involved in trying to steal a base. Cards catcher Yadier Molina owns a bazooka few runners care to test. Only 15 times this season have baserunners tried to take advantage of Molina, and they've been caught nine times -- a 40 percent success rate. Angels catchers, by contrast, have thrown out 23.9 percent of basestealers (11 of 46). Molina's catcher's ERA is a remarkable 2.48, solidifying his reputation as the game's premier defensive receiver. ... Erick Aybar's on-base percentage has dipped to .299, 19th among 22 Major League leadoff men with at least 100 plate appearances. After leading the club with his .312 batting average last season, Aybar is hitting .230. ... The Cardinals were 9-6 in Interleague Play last season. Their .526 all-time Interleague record ranks second in the NL to the Marlins' .548. ... Hideki Matsui is hitting .435 in six career games against St. Louis. ... Torii Hunter hit .319 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 58 Interleague at-bats last season.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.