Baseball / Sports

Ibanez's job with Angels could be in jeopardy

TORONTO -- Tuesday is homecoming day for Mike Trout, his first chance to play at the major league ballpark 40 miles from home. When the Los Angeles Angels' charter flight landed in Philadelphia early Tuesday morning, Trout was scheduled to go to his parents' house in Millville, N.J.

Tuesday also should mark a happy homecoming for Raul Ibanez, who has played in one World Series and one All-Star game in his 19-year career, in each case representing the Philadelphia Phillies.

When the Angels play the Phillies on Tuesday, Trout figures to bat second and play center field. Ibanez, however, might not bat at all. He is the oldest active player in the major leagues, at 41. He has the lowest batting average of any player with at least 100 at-bats, at .139.

If the combination of age and offensive futility were not enough to stir concern about his job security, the Angels now appear to have a viable replacement for Ibanez at designated hitter. He is rookie C.J. Cron, who hit his second major league home run, this one Monday in the Angels' 7-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

When the Angels signed Ibanez in the off-season, they spoke glowingly of his strong clubhouse presence and of his ability to work with younger players. Ibanez said he is not reluctant to work with Cron, even if Cron might soon cost him his spot on the roster.

"I don't look at it that way," Ibanez said. "I'm supposed to help people get better. My job is to be the best player I can be and the best teammate I can be. That means helping everybody. There is no greater compliment or gift I can receive than for somebody to say something I talked to them about helped them.

"My time is definitely limited in this game. That means so much more to me at this point."

The Angels won't say how limited his time is, at least with them. For now, they say, they're counting on him.

"We're going to need Raul, for sure," manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Angels signed Ibanez as a designated hitter to replace Mark Trumbo, whom they had traded for two desperately needed pitchers. Ibanez hit 29 home runs last season, but only five after the All-Star break. He batted .203 after the break last season. Add in this season, and the numbers suggest the end might be near: .180 in his last 278 at-bats, with 90 strikeouts.

For now, Ibanez is a platoon player, with Cron batting against left-handers. But Cron hit a home run against right-hander Steve Delabar on Monday, and he is five for 16 against right-handers. Before the Angels called him up this month, the right-handed Cron hit .326 with a 1.016 OPS against right-handers in the Pacific Coast League.

Cron has 11 hits in 28 at-bats overall; Ibanez 14 hits in 101 at-bats. However, Ibanez did bat .158 in April 2013 before warming up, and Scioscia said he could find room for Cron and Ibanez in the lineup if need be.

"Usually, it takes Raul a little time to get going," Scioscia said. "Once he does, he keeps it for a long time. He's definitely starting to look a little more comfortable in the batter's box.

"I don't know that it's going to be C.J. versus Raul. We'll find at-bats for guys who are swinging the bat well."

Ibanez is one for 23 against left-handers, so he no longer starts against them. It might not be productive to use him as a bench player; his career batting average as a pinch-hitter is .203.

In a seven-game stretch that started Monday, the Angels are scheduled to face five left-handers, so it might be challenging for Ibanez to get the at-bats he needs to rediscover his stroke. But, if he does not rediscover his stroke, his career might hang in the balance.

"The last few years of my career, I've been streakier than I had been in the past," Ibanez said. "I'm going through a rough patch right now. I see light at the end of the tunnel. If I stick with it, there will be big rewards at the end.

"When it gets good, it usually gets really good. Right now, it's been less than that, for sure."

KEY MOMENTS: Three of them, the three times Albert Pujols batted with men in scoring position. He made an out each time, stranding five runners in all. Pujols leads the Angels with 26 runs batted in, but he is batting .182 with men in scoring position. He leads the team with 44 at-bats with men in scoring position; Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick each have 43 at-bats in that situation.

AT THE PLATE: Mike Trout doubled home two of the Angels' runs, and C.J. Cron had a solo home run for the other. Collin Cowgill, getting a chance to play the outfield every day because of injuries to Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun, walked twice and has reached base in nine of his past 14 plate appearances. Cowgill is batting .306 and has reached base in all but one of his 21 starts.

ON THE MOUND: C.J. Wilson, who leads the major leagues in pitches thrown, threw 116 on Monday, in six innings. His average is 116.25 pitches per game, with a low of 111 and a high of 125. He gave up five runs -- on two swings, a three-run homer by Jose Bautista and a two-run homer by Brett Lawrie -- and struck out eight. He also walked three, including the batter immediately preceding both home runs.

PUJOLS WATCH: The Angels played Pujols at DH for a second time in the four-game series. Pujols said he was "100 percent," and manager Mike Scioscia said he was "just trying to be proactive with a little bit of maintenance" by keeping Pujols off the artificial turf. Blue Jays infielder Lawrie told Toronto reporters Pujols did not appear to be running freely. The Angels cannot use the DH in their next two games, in Philadelphia.

NOW PITCHING: The Angels called up right-hander Matt Shoemaker to start Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies, in the spot previously occupied by Hector Santiago, who was demoted to the bullpen last week. Shoemaker, 27, will make his second major league start. He is 1-0 with a 6.31 earned-run average in five starts at triple-A Salt Lake; he struck out 11 in his last start. Shoemaker will face four-time All-Star Cliff Lee on Tuesday and, if he makes a second start, would face Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price on Sunday.

ROSTER SHUFFLE: The Angels put infielder Ian Stewart on the disabled list because of a bruised left hand and recalled infielder Luis Jimenez from Salt Lake; Jimenez started at third base on Monday. The Angels will shuffle Jimenez, John McDonald and Grant Green at third base while awaiting the return of David Freese, who is unlikely to be activated when eligible Saturday because he has not yet resumed throwing. Freese is on the disabled list because of a fractured middle finger on his throwing hand. The Angels also will remove a player from their roster Tuesday -- probably right-handed reliever Cory Rasmus -- to clear a roster spot for Shoemaker.

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