This afternoon, Mike Scioscia bristled at the notion that he and reliever Sean Burnett were not on the same page about the non-blister on Burnett’s pitching hand Tuesday. After the game, an 11-5 loss to the Oakland A’s, the Angels did something that teams do when they need to get on the same page. They held a team meeting.
From the outside, it’s easy to misconstrue team meetings as a red flag or a panic button. To the players inside a clubhouse, they’re typically constructive. So it was no surprise that Albert Pujols left Wednesday in what seemed to be an upbeat mood.
“We’re having a good time,” Pujols said. “We’re having fun. We’re talking about eight games.”
The Angels are 2-6 for the second time in the last four seasons. That’s only four games under .500, which is an easy hole to climb out of in a 162-game season — even if the American League West standings look like this:
“Everything always looks worse at the start of the year,” pitcher Joe Blanton said, and right now he couldn’t be more correct.
So why hold a team meeting after eight games?
Last year, the Angels started the season 7-15. It proved to be too large a deficit, as they ended up finishing third in the West and missing the playoffs despite going 81-58 (.583) from May 1 onward.
There has to be a lesson, a teachable moment, to glean from last April. Pujols has said (in the past; on Wednesday he didn’t want to talk about 2012) that he found himself pressing early in his first season with his new team. The same might be true this year for Josh Hamilton, who is batting .156 with 13 strikeouts in 32 at-bats. Taking it a step further, everyone who bats with runners in scoring position might be pressing right now. The Angels are hitting .120 in those situations. The lesson might have something to do with not pressing.
Scioscia didn’t divulge any specifics about the meeting, but he spoke often about players’ confidence. Without knowing at all what was said, the Angels’ postgame powwow might have been equal parts team meeting and pep talk.
“We’ve got grinders in that room,” the manager said. “These guys know how to play.”
Scioscia voluntarily identified the Angels’ two biggest weaknesses, the “couple flies in the ointment” as he called them: Their batting average with runners in scoring position and their bullpen. Maybe the RISP woes can be cured with a simple pep talk, but the bullpen problems run much deeper.
Dane De La Rosa and Mark Lowe were the first guys out of the bullpen Wednesday. Neither pitcher was with the Angels as recently as two weeks ago, and neither came to spring training with a major-league contract. Yet there they were Wednesday, trying to protect a one-run lead against a division rival. They combined to allow four runs in the sixth inning, not including one run charged to Blanton when Lowe walked Yoenis Cespedes with the bases loaded.
“We’re going to put guys in there because we have a feeling that they’re going to get the job done,” Scioscia said.
If that changes, there are a couple of intriguing former Angels on the free-agent market.
Kevin Gregg had a solid spring for the Dodgers, and actually beat Lowe out for a bullpen job in their camp, but didn’t accept an assignment to the minors when he was among the final round of cuts.
Francisco Rodriguez appeared in 72 games last season for the Milwaukee Brewers but was not in camp with any team for spring training. He might want more money than Gregg, but the Angels might be willing to pay for a 2002 World Series ring-bearer — if he can still pitch.
The Angels might also choose to put Garrett Richards in the bullpen and seek to acquire a fifth starter. There are plenty of free-agent names we could drop here — Carlos Zambrano, Dallas Braden, Randy Wolf, Jeff Suppan, Carl Pavano — but no reason to believe the Angels have a specific interest in any of them. The same could be said for Gregg and Rodriguez.
But at some point, you start to wonder who could help this team. First, you try to see if they can help themselves.