Senior Baseball Columnist

Uber-kid Trout, Pujols, Frieri help Angels finally find their wings


It's not all offense in Anaheim; Dan Haren leads a resurgent Angels pitching staff. (Getty Images)  
It's not all offense in Anaheim; Dan Haren leads a resurgent Angels pitching staff. (Getty Images)  

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- April showers bring May powers? My goodness. The Angels.

From zero to 60 with the flip of a calendar page.

"Losing is a disease," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "Winning is the antibiotic for that.

"Guys aren't sick anymore."

Here come the Rangers for the weekend, and what Ron Washington's club will find, if it can still see from underneath the avalanche of runs the Mariners dropped on them this week, is an Angels team that is totally unrecognizable from the club that visited Arlington three weeks ago.

Then, Albert Pujols, astoundingly, was swinging pretty much at any pitch thrown between the dugouts.

Now, Pujols is back from whatever planet he was visiting and has smashed seven home runs over his past 15 games.

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Then, Mark Trumbo didn't know if he was going or coming.

Now, Trumbo is a regular in the lineup who has batted .367 with seven homers and 18 RBI over 28 games in the month of May. Wednesday, he tied Rex Hudler's club record, set in 1996, of homering in four consecutive games. Holy Wonder Dog, Batman!

Then, the Angels' bullpen was giving away so much it should have filed a 501(c) form to register as a full-fledged charity.

Now, the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri from the Padres has helped manager Mike Scioscia move guys into roles that pretty much have sealed the leaks.

Mike Trout is on the fast track to becoming a star, Pujols has knocked in 23 runs in the past 24 games, Dan Haren is on a roll and, even with ace Jered Weaver on the disabled list with a strained lower back, the Angels are on the move.

Following an 8-15 April, they delivered an 18-11 May.

"Losing sucks," Trout said. "We all stayed positive. We all told ourselves that, sooner or later, things were going to turn around."

Trout, who may not stay in the shadow of Bryce Harper much longer, has been a key to the turnaround. When the season started, the Angels were a collection of parts that didn't fit. They weren't athletic enough. Now, following the release of Bobby Abreu and with Vernon Wells on the shelf with a thumb injury, Trout is the everyday left fielder and, going forward, it's going to be hell on anyone who tries to take it from him.

He made two sensational catches against the Yankees the other night. He was clocked from home to first last month in 3.53 seconds (and remember, he bats right-handed). Against the Yankees on Tuesday night, he scorched an RBI triple to left field. Go see how many more games it will take before you see that from someone not named Mike Trout.

A triple ... to left?

"He's been a game-changer," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Offensively, defensively. The kid's got some raw talent, a ton of talent. He uses his speed to make things happen.

"Usually, a guy with speed like that, you don't anticipate him hitting the ball out of the ballpark. But this kid's got power, too."

Trout homered against the Yankees in Monday's series opener. In 30 games, he's hitting .303 with seven doubles, two triples, five homers, eight steals, 16 RBI and a .366 on-base percentage.

"I just go up and hit," says Trout, who was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on April 28. "It's not like there's one particular pitch I like.

"Down the line, in the gaps, I'm always thinking three."

The breathtaking thing is, Trout is still getting his feet on the ground.

"He's got a lot to learn," Hunter said. "With his speed, he can make up for bad routes. But we're going to work on that. We want perfect routes.

"Give him five years from now. He'll be 25, which is still super young. He's going to be awesome."

Behind Trout in left field at home lurks an increasingly dependable weapon in the Angels' bullpen. Frieri is the first pitcher in big-league history to make 12 consecutive appearances without allowing a hit to begin his time with a new team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He has natural movement on his fastball, a slider that breaks hard and, perhaps as important as anything else, a very deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball.

He's not going to be this good every day through season's end -- he can't be -- but Frieri so far has not allowed a run while striking out 25 hitters in 12 innings with the Angels. Also according to Elias, he is the first pitcher to produce 25 or more whiffs and zero earned runs over his first 12-plus innings with a new team since at least 1921.

Frieri and Scott Downs have handled recent closing duties, ex-closer Jordan Walden is regaining his balance, LaTroy Hawkins (broken finger) is nearly ready to return and Bobby Cassevah pitched in against the Yankees.

A bullpen that was last statistically in the American League for much of April has crept up to eighth in the AL with a 3.57 ERA.

"It's much better now than at the beginning of the season," Scioscia said. "There's no doubt about it."

So, too, are the Angels.

When Hunter left the team May 14 to deal with a legal issue with his son back home in Texas, the Angels were last in the AL West, eight games behind the Rangers.

When he returned on Monday, they were second, 6½ games back.

Following an eight-game winning streak that ended Wednesday night, they're 5½ back.

"Great atmosphere to come back to," Hunter said. "Wow, this is great. Sitting on the bench now, guys are cracking jokes."

No wonder. Pujols is batting .318 since he checked in at a season-low .190 on May 8. And the Angels are 20-12 since bringing Trout up from Salt Lake (before that: 6-14).

Long way to go, still. But the Angels are April's fools no longer.


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