For me, personally, this has probably been the worst first half of my career. It’s a combination of things. Every time I’ve started to feel good, something has happened, little setbacks. As a team, we struggled the first couple of months, but our pitching kept us alive.
I can’t give enough credit to our pitching staff, especially Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Both those guys deserve to be in the All-Star Game – and Jered deserves to start. When you’ve got two guys like that, they keep you out of losing streaks and add on to winning streaks. There aren’t many teams that have starting pitching like ours, and it all starts with those two guys. Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and the young guy, Tyler Chatwood, all have pitched well, too. And the bullpen has done the job with the new lefties, Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, giving us balance.
Once we got the breaking news that Kendrys Morales was not returning this season, as a team we kind of folded for about 10 games. That was a very frustrating time for the team, the coaching staff and the front office. It took us about two weeks to realize he’s not going to come back and be with us. We had to come together. We did that, and you can see now that we’re back to playing Angels baseball.
This is the team Mike Scioscia pulled out of Spring Training, the team we thought we were going to be. Vernon Wells is hot, and I’m starting to swing pretty well. We know how much this team needs us to be productive, and we’re determined to do our part. Bobby Abreu is Bobby Abreu. He plays the game right every day. Our infield has been playing great, from All-Star Howard Kendrick to Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and the kid at first, Mark Trumbo.
The key for us now is staying healthy. If we can do that, I really believe this team is capable of going to the World Series.
With all that we went through in the first half – the Morales news, injuries to a lot of guys, including Vernon and myself – it’s amazing to think we’re tied for first place in the American League West right now. That tells me how strong we are and how good we can be.
I have a saying: Don’t let a setback hold you back. Prepare for a comeback. That’s what all the guys have done. While we were struggling, we were preparing for a comeback. We’ve got a lot of strong individuals on this team, and that’s what it takes to get through hard times. We made adjustments and made progress. We don’t give up. We never give up.
I can’t say enough about what all our young guys have done. They’ve been thrown out there with a lot of pressure on them, and they’ve performed.
Look at Hank Conger, our young catcher. That’s a tough position, with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. You’ve got to command everything, calm pitchers down, call the right pitches, block the plate, block pitches. There’s so much to that job, and Hank has come a long way for a guy in his first full year. We’re in good shape behind the plate with Hank, Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. That’s great depth at an important position.
Then you look at Mark Trumbo at first base. He’s holding it down. He knew he was under pressure because of Kendrys not being here, and he has come through for us in a big way. Around the league first base is known for power, and he’s been holding his own. It’s not easy when you don’t know the pitchers or the league. The guy has tremendous power and he wants to be good. He works at it. For a first year guy, he’s doing a great job defensively, I think.
Peter Bourjos in center field, what can you say? The guy has been unbelievable. He’s playing Gold Glove defense and growing in confidence at the plate and on the bases. I love to work with a guy with that kind of speed, and the great thing about Pete is, he doesn’t think he knows everything. He really wants to learn. He’s very humble, but he’s also tough when he steps between the lines. He was a football player in high school, catching touchdowns and running back kicks for touchdowns. That sport toughens you up. Only the strong survive. I played football. So did Vernon and Jeff Mathis. You need that kind of intensity and toughness on a team.
Jordan Walden is another kid who’s been put in an important role, closing games, and what he’s done is very impressive. He’s got great stuff and a good attitude. He’s not afraid, either. None of our young guys are. That’s why I think their upside is so great. It’s kind of scary when you think what all these kids are capable of doing when they settle in.
As a team, we’ve struggled, and we’ve fought back. I really like where the Angels are right now. I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead of us.
ARLINGTON – This is where the long season ends, today, much too soon for us. It’s been a trying year. I’ve been humbled, and we’ve been humbled as a team. Nobody saw this coming, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When we get together for Spring Training, I want us all to remember how bad this felt. That will make us that much hungrier.
Looking back, we got beat down, starting in Spring Training. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of change. Four core guys left: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Darren Oliver. That’s a good piece of the club. And Gary Matthews Jr., too. He was an important role player for us.
It never really came together for us, other than that one stretch we put together in June where we played like us. The rest of the year, that wasn’t us at all. It was somebody else. We weren’t letting our talents flow. We were pressing, trying to do too much, trying to win games by ourselves.
When I signed here, I expected us to be dominant every year. We have to get that feeling back. One thing you can’t expect is injuries, and we had some big ones: Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Joel Pineiro, Jason Bulger. We lost key guys, and I think it kind of knocked us off balance because we didn’t have as much depth as in the past.
This is the first time in my career since 2000, when I was 24 years old, that I played on a team that didn’t have a winning record. With the Twins, we were always in contention. In 2005 I broke my ankle and we didn’t make the postseason, and we didn’t make it in 2007 even though we were fighting for it and got close. Then we made it my first two years here and were two wins away from the World Series last season.
This is a humbling season for me. Sometimes you have to be humbled. You get spoiled sometimes with winning. I have been slapped in the face and the team’s been slapped in the face. I’ve been winning my whole career, and I’m not used to this feeling.
Things don’t always work out the way you plan. I had sports hernia surgery on Nov. 27, and it took me time to get to where I could do my rehab. When I got to Spring Training, it was like I had to learn to run the bases with it again. I had a lot of catching up to do, and the truth is, I didn’t feel the same, like myself, until recently, in August and September.
It all went back to May of 2009 at Dodger Stadium when I crashed into the wall making a catch on Matt Kemp. Then I hit the wall hard in San Francisco a few weeks later, and my groin got really bad. I always try to play through injuries – that’s just who I am – but this was bad. I had to sit a long time, and when I came back I wasn’t right but I gave it my best shot.
Playing center field requires a lot of running, and it seems like I was doing even more than normal this season. My old explosion wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like myself going after balls. I could still make plays, but it wasn’t me. That was something that really hurt me. I always told myself I would retire if I couldn’t play center field, but life is about revising things. It’s like when I said I wasn’t going to get married until I was 25, and I got married when I was 21. Life happens, as they say.
Anyway, I always thought I loved center field more than the game itself. When the decision was made to move me to right field and play Peter Bourjos in center, I found out I loved the game more than center field. That was big. It was hard for me to give up center field, but I knew I had to do it. It improved our defense. Peter is showing what he can do out there. He’s not a finished product, and that’s what’s scary – seeing how good he is already and knowing that he can get so much better.
When Pete got here, I liked that he asked me questions. That let me know he really wanted it. He’s into the game and understands the game offensively and defensively. I wouldn’t put too much on him too soon – let him play and learn and grow. This is just the beginning for him, and I know what that’s like. When I started out in Minnesota, I had guys like Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack to show me things. Now I can do that with Peter, like I did with Denard Span while I was still with the Twins. Now he’s playing some good center field.
It’s funny, it wasn’t until the end of August, the beginning of September, that my legs started feeling a lot better. I felt like I had some burst again, and I was getting down the line better. I think that moving to right actually did help me save wear on my legs. In the long run, that can be a really good thing. Next Spring Training, I’m going to be primed.
We learned a lot this season through the humbling we took. Now we have to turn it back around and be the Angels. That’s all. Just be the Angels, who we are. That will be enough. I’m excited about coming back and getting back to the top, where we belong.
You can catch me on MLB Network with some commentary during the postseason, and I’ll try to be enthusiastic and upbeat. But you know me: I’d rather be on that field, helping drive the Angels toward our ultimate goal. Wait’ll next year.
ANAHEIM – It’s great to be back in our park, back home. We got everything accomplished we needed to do in Arizona, and now it’s time to get ready for the real thing. We’re looking forward to seeing the Twins on Monday, so we can get this show started.
I know there’s been a lot of attention focused on the guys we lost this winter – Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. But that’s the way the game is. Guys move on, and you adapt. We’ve made some great additions, and I’m really excited with the team we’ve put together here.
Of course, it hurts losing teammates who were friends. A guy like Figgy, he was a respected man in the clubhouse, a leadoff guy who scored more than 100 runs and saved a lot of runs with his glove. He played the game right. But he got a great deal in Seattle, just like I got a great deal here. I’m happy for Figgy, but he’s on the other side now, and we’ll compete against each other with everything we’ve got.
I’ve got a ton of confidence in Erick Aybar taking over as the leadoff man. He’s a young guy with tremendous talent coming off a big year. And he can fly. He’s going to be fun to watch on the bases. With another year of experience with his mentor, Bobby Abreu, Aybar should be even better.
Bobby’s one of the best leaders in the game, and I’m so happy he’s back. You could see his influence last year in how much Aybar and Kendry Morales and so many other guys improved during the season. Bobby even helped out veterans like Figgy and me in a big way by showing us how to be more disciplined and selective at the plate. Everyone learned from watching Bobby and listening to him.
Lackey was a bulldog, one of the reasons I wanted to come here, but he got a great deal in Boston. We signed Joel Pineiro to replace Lackey in the rotation, and I’m impressed with Pineiro. You’ve got to like a guy who throws strikes and keeps the ball down. He should get real deep in games with our defense behind him.
With Pineiro, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir, we’ve got five solid starters, five guys who will give us a chance to win every night. We’re built to win with that rotation and with a deep bullpen. We’ve got some big arms out there, and this is Brian Fuentes’ second year in the American League. That always helps, getting that first year to figure things out.
Hideki Matsui is the guy I call the Quiet Assassin. He’s as clutch as they come, in a quiet way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hideki does in our lineup. He’s a pro, like Bobby, and you can never have enough of those guys.
Morales was born to hit. I call him Captain Caveman and Bam-Bam. He’s solid, strong and he always wants to use that stick and hit. And he’s good down at first with the glove.
Hitting behind Aybar and Bobby, and in front of Hideki, Morales, Juan Rivera, Howard Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, Maicer Izturis. That’s a lot of talent, a load of weapons.
Brandon Wood, his thing is to play defense and do his part. Let us have the pressure. That’s why they’re paying us. We just want him to relax and play. He’s got it in him to hit at least 20 homers, with 70-plus RBIs. If he does that, he helps the team tremendously. The way he’s played third base, he’s been impressive.
Everybody knows what Izturis can do – pretty much whatever you need. He’s versatile and clutch, the kind of guy every winning team needs. Kendrick is going to do some really big damage this year. He’s my pick to click. I definitely feel he’s one day going to win that batting title, if he can just stay healthy.
With the kind of talent we have in front of me and behind me, I should be in a good position to drive in runs and score a lot of runs. All I have to do is stay on the field.
I was on my way to my best season ever when I messed up my groin crashing into walls last year. I really feel good now – once I broke the scar tissue sliding this spring, I was good to go. I don’t even think about the sports hernia surgery I had last winter anymore. I’m ready to get after it.
I think we’re built to win the division. There’s a reason why the Angels have won the AL West three years in a row and five of the past six. These guys know how to compete, how to win. I thought we had a great year last season, considering everything we went through losing Nick Adenhart. We’ll never forget Nick, what he meant to us.
This team has a lot of heart. Our mission this season is to take it all the way. We can’t wait to get started.