Fuentes at top of his game for Angels
Scioscia calls closer's 14th save 'best outing' of season
ANAHEIM -- Brian Fuentes' 14th save of the season in Tuesday night's series opener against the Rangers was the Angels closer's best performance of the season in the view of his manager, Mike Scioscia. Fuentes struck out two of the three Rangers he faced in a perfect ninth inning, including former teammate Vladimir Guerrero.
"Brian's always been command sensitive," Scioscia said. "Last night was a great example of when he has his command and what he can do. That's a tough threesome he faced. He made some terrific pitches to them. It's probably his best outing of the year with his command and the velocity he showed."
Fuentes struck out Ian Kinsler and Guerrero and retired Josh Hamilton, a Triple Crown candidate, on a grounder to seal a 6-5 victory for Joel Pineiro. Fuentes, the 2009 MLB leader with 48 saves, has converted eight consecutive save opportunities and has not yielded a hit in his past three appearances. He has 27 strikeouts against 10 walks in 22 1/3 innings, holding hitters to a .233 batting average.
"It's easy to play a video game and put the ball where you want it," Fuentes said. "When you're out there, you have to have some luck on your side. You want to change their eye levels by pitching up and down, in and out, change elevations so they don't lock in on a small zone. It was a positive outing."
Aybar, Andrus emerge as premier shortstops
ANAHEIM -- Rangers third baseman Michael Young has spent most of his career at shortstop, giving him uncommon expertise in evaluating how the position is played. He looks at teammate Elvis Andrus and the Angels' Erick Aybar as similarly dynamic performers destined to give their clubs quality performance for years to come.
"They're very similar, pretty comparable," Young said. "Both hit at the top of the order and run well. Both play a premium position defensively with good range and arm strength. The sky's the limit for both these guys. Their teams are in real good shape at shortstop, probably for a long time to come."
Andrus, a Venezuela native who turns 22 on Aug. 26, carries 200 pounds on a 6-foot frame. He is batting .296 with 52 runs scored in 73 games. He has 22 steals in 31 attempts and owns a .378 on-base percentage. He has committed nine errors in 73 games, demonstrating Gold Glove talents.
Aybar, coming around to top form after a slow start and a knee injury that sidelined him for a week and a half, is batting .273 with a .336 OBP. The 26-year-old Dominican Republic product, smaller than Andrus at 5-10 and 170 pounds, has 11 steals in 16 attempts and has made nine errors in 68 games, also showing Gold Glove skills.
"Andrus has made huge strides in a short amount of time," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Erick took a while, like a Thoroughbred, to get himself under control. You're looking at two of the premier shortstops in all of baseball, certainly at the defensive end.
"They're vital to their teams. During the 10, 11 days Erick was sidelined, we felt that impact. I'm sure Ronny [Washington, Texas manager] would feel the same if Andrus was out for any period of time."
Wilson getting best out of Kazmir and Co.
ANAHEIM -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia turned to Bobby Wilson as his catcher for southpaw Scott Kazmir on Wednesday night against the Rangers, hoping Wilson holds to form as a lucky charm for his staff and his team. The Angels are 11-1 in Wilson's starts and have a 2.57 ERA in his 101 2/3 innings, compared to a 4.44 overall team ERA.
Scioscia said it was a good night for Jeff Mathis, who caught the series opener and delivered a clutch RBI single, to take a break in his recovery from a fractured right wrist.
"We're trying to let Jeff get some games to where he can work off some rough edges," Scioscia said. "We have to be mindful he missed some time. We have to give him a blow. It's a good day, because of the rapport Bobby and Scott have. We don't anticipate this being a personal pitcher/catcher relationship."
Kazmir has worked three games with Wilson, putting together a 2.12 ERA. Kazmir's ERA is 6.52 with Mathis and 6.34 with Mike Napoli, the new first baseman. Three of the other four Angels' starters have better ERAs with Wilson than with the two veteran receivers, with Joe Saunders the lone exception. Especially successful with Wilson is Jered Weaver: 14 innings, no earned runs, five hits and three walks against 17 strikeouts.
Rivera's rest gives way to Willits in left
ANAHEIM -- With the Rangers starting Omar Beltre, a 28-year-old right-hander making his Major League debut against Scott Kazmir, the Angels rested left fielder Juan Rivera on Wednesday night, opting for the defense and plate discipline of Reggie Willits.
"It's just a little breather day for Juan," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We know [Beltre] is a kid with a power arm. Like some young pitchers, you've got to be sensitive to command issues. You want to make him get the ball into a good zone.
"Reggie does bring an element of that. His plate discipline is going to match up well with a guy like that, and hopefully he'll get on base from the bottom of the order. Reggie also has a good defensive presence. A guy like Kazmir is going to elevate some balls."
Finally healthy after two injury-riddled seasons, Willits is batting .255 with a .359 on-base percentage, creeping up on his 2007 numbers when he set club rookie records with a .293 average and .391 OBP.
Angels right-hander Brian Stokes hopes to get clearance from the medical staff on Thursday to start working out again. Sidelined since May 10 with right shoulder fatigue, Stokes has been going through extensive rehab at the Sports Medicine Institute near Angel Stadium. "It's a strain in the back of the shoulder," Stokes said. "It feels great now. We're going to start a program and build up the muscles around it -- the sooner the better." Fellow reliever Jason Bulger, on the disabled list since June 11 with a right shoulder strain, threw a second bullpen session on Wednesday and said it felt better than his first session on Friday. "Last year was the most I've thrown in a season," Bulger said, "and I felt it late in the year. You don't want to push it. It's better that this happened now rather than in September or October. I have time to recover and get back out there." ... Since 2006, the Angels lead the Rangers, 41-37, in the season series, but they've lost eight of the past 11 in Texas. ... Angels manager Mike Scioscia participated in a popular cooking show, "Iron Chef America," along with his wife, Anne, on Wednesday and was dismayed they didn't win the competition claimed by Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher. Pitchers Joe Saunders and Kevin Jepsen and infielder Brandon Wood each brought family members as cooking partners along with Butcher, who was accused of bringing a ringer. "`Mike Scioscia's Italian Flag Shrimp Scampi' was the prize of the day," Scioscia said. "Mike Butcher had a professional chef with him, and it was really close. Anne and I put our hearts in this dish. She took [not winning] better than I did." Saunders brought his wife, Jepsen invited his mother and Wood teamed with his fiancee, as Butcher prevailed with professional assistance according to the vanquished entrants. "We all made pasta dishes, and Sosh's dish looked really good," Jepsen said. "Butch's sister-in-law is a chef, so he definitely had an advantage."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.