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Searching for Mike Trout's flaw

7/23/2012

ANAHEIM -- With his headphones on and a towel at the ready in his waistband, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington did his daily 10 laps around the field early Sunday afternoon, walking briskly in his fight against Father Time. When the Rangers' manager finished, he relaxed in the dugout and saw something he had never seen before.

Mike Trout had come out to work on his bunting, and as Washington watched the Angels' phenom square around in his work with third-base coach Dino Ebel, the thought occurred to Washington that he had finally identified something Trout isn't good at.

Trout might have the highest average in the American League. He might be the fastest player in baseball; the Angels clocked him at 3.52 seconds from home to first, almost supernatural. He might be the best player in baseball, as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane predicted in early May. He might be the best player of his generation, as Albert Pujols said Sunday.

But Mike Trout is not a great bunter, Washington said with a smile.

He went on to explain that his team hasn't figured out a way to get him out, and as if to illuminate that point, Trout reached base in four of his five plate appearances Sunday night -- a triple in his first at-bat, a walk after a dozen pitches, another walk, a single.

As one member of the Angels' organization said the other day, we are all conditioned to think that eventually a 20-year-old rookie -- who went to Magic Mountain Saturday evening with his friends, like a lot of 20-year-olds -- will turn into a pumpkin, inevitably. Pitchers will figure things out. Advance scouts will discover his kryptonite.

But here's the thing: Trout's swing is incredibly simple, and his approach is so sound in how he takes the ball to right field, something he learned from watching Derek Jeter as a kid, the Angels source said.

"You see a rookie hitting .350 and you think that eventually, it'll stop," the source said. "But after awhile, you start to wonder if this is who he is -- and that he's actually getting better."

Trout's OPS for his first plate appearance against starting pitchers is about .700 this year. His second: About 1.120. His third: About 1.400. His fourth: About 1.500.

He doesn't watch video between at-bats, he said before Sunday's game. The first time he is thrown a breaking ball, he said, he captures a mental image of the pitch and then makes his adjustments thereafter. Like a hitter with a photographic memory.

The Rangers couldn't get him out; the Los Angeles Dodgers say they can't find a hole in his approach; scouts are befuddled, so far.

But Washington can still hang onto this -- Trout isn't a great bunter. Yet.

Trout's current trajectory would take him to these numbers at season's end -- a combination we've never seen before in Major League Baseball:

Runs: 132

Hits: 202

Walks: 56

Homers: 28

Extra-base hits: 73

RBIs: 89

Stolen bases: 58

Average: .357

On-base percentage: .412

Meanwhile, the weekend ended badly for the Rangers, whose hitters looked awful in their at-bats against Dan Haren -- most notably Josh Hamilton, who has seen his on-base percentage plummet by about 100 points during the past couple of months. The Rangers have a lot of peak/valley hitters manifesting this season -- Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz.

And Texas is dealing with a rash of pitching injuries, as well.

Oakland sweeps

Oakland swept the New York Yankees in four games, and at the end there was a fitting conclusion, writes Steve Kroner.

Notes from Elias Sports Bureau

• This is the first time that the A's have had eight walkoff wins in a span of 16 home games. The last MLB team to do that was the Brewers in 2000 (also eight in 16).

• The last time the Yankees were swept in a series of at least four games by the A's was 1972. They had played 19 straight series of four-plus games against the A's since without being swept. The last time the A's swept a series of at least four games against the Yankees at home was in 1913 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

• The A's had hosted 57 straight series of at least four games against the Yankees since they last swept them at home.

• This is the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series with each loss by one run. The last time the Yankees lost four straight games, each by one run, against the same opponent was against the Tigers in 1988-89.

Elsewhere

• The Detroit Tigers closed out a sweep of the Chicago White Sox with a strong effort from Jacob Turner.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Turner won:

A) Threw strikes: 70 percent strike percentage bolstered by the White Sox swinging at 52 percent of all pitches. Four of Turner's first five starts had strike percentages in the 50 percent range.

B) White Sox swung at 15 of Turner's 41 pitches out of the zone, a chase percentage of 37 percent. As a team, the White Sox have chased more than 30 percent of "bad" pitches this season, third-most in the AL.

C) 18 of 23 batters saw first-pitch strikes. Only four plate appearances ended with the hitter ahead in the count (three were outs), and Turner went to just one three-ball count (full) the entire day.

From Elias: At 29 years and 95 days old today, Cabrera becomes the 11th-youngest player in MLB history to hit 300 home runs. He's the fifth active player to reach 300 career homers before age 30.

Active players to reach 300 HRs before age 30

Alex Rodriguez: 27 years, 249 days

Andruw Jones: 28 years, 144 days

Pujols: 28 years, 170 days

Cabrera: 29 years, 95 days

Adam Dunn: 29 years, 237 days

Cabrera is only the second Venezuelan-born player to reach 300 homers in his career. Most career homers among Venezuelan-born players:

Andres Galarraga: 399

Cabrera: 300

Magglio Ordonez: 294

Bobby Abreu: 286

Tony Armas: 251

• The pitcher formerly known as Fausto had three birthdays, with three cakes, as Paul Hoynes writes.

Jair Jurrjens got roughed up. There is an expectation in other organizations that the Atlanta Braves will make an immediate push to add a starting pitcher, and they have been in the Ryan Dempster talks all along.

Dings and dents

1. Ian Desmond is headed to the disabled list.

2. Matt Garza is feeling better and might avoid the disabled list.

3. Jonny Venters looked good in his first outing off the disabled list.

4. Giancarlo Stanton is making progress.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Milwaukee Brewers seem ready to sell.

2. The San Francisco Giants are trying to decide what to do with Brandon Belt, writes Henry Schulman.

3. The San Diego Padres signed hitter Carlos Quentin. Huston Street is next.

4. Oakland is among those interested in Chase Headley, and perhaps the Athletics' strong play in the past month will nudge them to be a little bit more aggressive than they'd normally be.

By The Numbers

From ESPN Stats and Info

5: HRs by Kevin Youkilis in 22 games since joining White Sox (had four homers 42 games with Red Sox this season)

36: Times Ichiro has stolen two bases in a single inning in his career

NL East notes

Ryan Zimmerman powered the Washington Nationals, who came back to win the final two games of the four-game series against the Braves. Washington is getting tough through adversity, writes Thomas Boswell.

• The Phillies' clubhouse is keeping the faith, writes David Murphy.

Anibal Sanchez threw well, with scouts in attendance, but the Miami Marlins lost again.

NL Central notes

• The Chicago Cubs were wrecked.

• The Brewers' playoff dreams may have ended, writes Tom Haudricourt.

• The St. Louis Cardinals put it all together in a sweep, writes Bernie Miklasz. Adam Wainwright says St. Louis is championship caliber.

• The Houston Astros are evolving into the '62 Mets, in the nature of how they're losing. There are massive changes to come for Houston, as Chip Bailey writes.

• Ron Cook writes that there is a lot to enjoy about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

NL West notes

• The Dodgers needed a lift, and they got it against the New York Mets during the weekend.

Jason Kubel and the Arizona Diamondbacks had a really fun weekend.

• There have been first impressions with the Rockies' four-man rotation.

AL East notes

• While the Yankees were swept, the Baltimore Orioles gained gobs of ground in the standings.

Jon Lester was crushed.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Lester allowed 11 runs:

A) Fastball was all over the map, contributing to a very poor strike percentage, especially against righties. Since the start of the season, Lester had thrown 63 percent strikes to RHB; on Sunday it was less than 52. That also meant fewer swings (42 percent versus 46 percent) out of Toronto hitters, and a better contact rate (84 percent versus 79 percent) when they did swing.

B) Career-high four home runs allowed, three on fastballs, and all three of those near the same spot (the middle/right of the plate looking in, the "6" on your phone). Blue Jays went 8-for-13 plus a sac bunt when they got a pitch in the strike zone and put it in play.

C) Curveball also ineffective: Seven of the 11 he threw were out of the zone, five of them not even close, and only one was swung at.

• The Toronto Blue Jays partied on against Lester, the headline in this story reads.

• Joe Maddon was disappointed with the Rays' 4-6 homestand. Tampa Bay's offense struggled again.

• The Yankees suffered a flashback to 1972.

AL Central notes

• The White Sox had a brutal weekend.

Ryan Doumit saved the day.

• The Cleveland Indians are in a free fall and dropped below .500.

Jeremy Guthrie struggled, as Tod Palmer writes. A couple of Kansas City Royals were ejected.

Other stuff

Barry Larkin made a fittingly gracious speech, writes Paul Daugherty. His parents were moved by his words.

• It wasn't the same without Ron Santo, but there was still joy about his induction.

• Here's Bob Elliott's Hall of Fame speech.

• Pete Rose ripped Bruce Jenner, in a nice way.

And today will be better than yesterday.