Daily Distractions: Jered Weaver was better than even he expected.

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver threw harder Wednesday than he did in either of his two starts in April (Will Lester/ Staff Photographer)

Of all the positives the Angels could take from Jered Weaver‘s performance last night — just having him back on the mound stands out as the first — maybe the best is that he’s throwing faster.

According to FanGraphs.com, Weaver topped out at 92 mph on his fastball and threw it for an average speed of 87.3 mph, compared to 85.8 and 85.1 mph in his first two starts, respectively. All his pitches were faster across the board. He also got a lot more horizontal movement on his two-seam fastball and changeup, and the results followed: Weaver allowed five hits (four singles) and one run in six innings while striking out seven.

“When you haven’t been out there for a while,” Weaver told colleague Clay Fowler, “you kind of ask yourself `Can I still do this?’”

Yes. You can do it better.

Some bullet points for a Canary Islands Day:
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Daily Distractions: Apparent blown call revisited; Angels’ initial budget was $5 million.

Did the blown call at first base in yesterday’s game matter?

It’s a valid enough question to be debating it today. Albert Pujols, who had three hits in the game, was on deck. He’s batted four times in his career against Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen and has one hit, a home run.

If the Angels indeed go on another winning streak today, and this stands as the only defeat in a stretch of wins, the play will loom large. A one-run loss decided by a blown call in the eighth inning? Not too much to hang your head about there.

Some more bullet points for a Tuesday morning:

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Daily Distractions: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols juxtaposed; rekindling Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols’ running can be painful to watch; lately his batting average has been suffering too. (Associated Press photo)

A visiting beat writer at Sunday’s game watched one of Albert Pujols‘ three strikeouts and marveled at what he saw. The swing-and-miss at strike three, down and away, simply wasn’t the same Pujols. In fact, it looked a little like Josh Hamilton did earlier this month.

Hamilton seems to be coming around, as I wrote in my game story yesterday. Pujols, who is batting .198 since April 21, does not.

Writes Joe Posnanski: “After years of being the best player in baseball, Pujols is now sort of beside the point.”

Mike Scioscia said something interesting after the game. I asked him if the Angels’ patience at the plate (they walked twice with the bases loaded and Hamilton averaged five pitches per at-bat) was evidence of a team that isn’t pressing as much, something Scioscia reprimanded his team for a couple nights earlier. His answer:

“I think we’re seeing some guys maybe use the whole field. As you try to get simpler, get more comfortable in the game, the things you talk about show up — you see the guys get in deeper counts, get a pitch, take a walk, hit the ball the other way, get better pitches to hit. Those things start to go in a positive direction. Hopefully he’ll keep taking strides toward it.”

Wait, who’s “he”?

I didn’t ask that because I didn’t catch Scioscia’s choice of pronouns until I listened to my tape after the game. But it isn’t hard to figure out — it’s Hamilton, who was hitting line drives to the opposite field, taking a walk, and going deeper into counts as if he was Mike Trout. Pujols was not.

For Pujols’ legacy, sure, we’re witnessing a turning point. As a key to the Angels’ success, it remains to be seen how long they can survive Pujols’ slump.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:

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Daily Distractions: Going to WAR over the Angels’ pitching woes.

<strong>Jered  Weaver</strong>Like you really needed WAR to tell you the Angels’ pitching is awful after Mike Scioscia did so Sunday?

Here it is anyway: FanGraphs recently calculated the WAR (wins above replacement) for every team by position. (For an explanation of the frequently misunderstood statistic, which is calculated differently by FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com and has gained popularity in recent years, click here.) According to FanGraphs’ WAR, the Angels have the 22nd-best pitching staff in the major leagues.

Broken down further, their starters rank 20th and the relievers 23rd.

The chart has its limits. Add up the Angels’ position-by-position WAR, and they should have the fourth-best team in baseball. In reality the Angels are 10 games under .500. The Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East, yet their combined WAR ranks 21st in the majors.

This is why you play the games, why the experts say that you can’t win without pitching.

More bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Has moving Mike Trout to second in the batting order had the desired result?

Sunday marked Mike Trout‘s 23rd game as the Angels’ number-two hitter. Say what you want about the Angels’ record in the meantime — they’re 9-13 with him batting second compared to 2-6 when he led off — but the move seems to have helped the second-year outfielder.

Trout has 20 RBIs in 22 games since the switch. His batting average is down (.267) but his on-base percentage (.340) and slugging percentage (.511) are both up a tick.

The move hasn’t always connected Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, which was one of manager Mike Scioscia‘s goals when he made the move seven games into the season. Hamilton was demoted to fifth in the batting order prior to Sunday, when Pujols got the day off and Hamilton batted third.

But Mark Trumbo has stepped into the cleanup hole and given the Angels the dangerous 2-3-4 combo they were looking for. Trumbo has home runs in five of his last six games and is batting .295/.363/.557.

Here’s what Mike Scioscia had to say when asked if moving Trout to the number-two hole has had its desired effect:

“Primarily, what Mike really needs to be in a position to drive in runs,” Scioscia said. “He’s a guy you want guys on base with. He can draw a walk with guys on base to really set the table for the middle of the lineup. Connecting him, Josh and Albert is one thing we talked about. There’s no doubt he’s getting more opportunities with runners in scoring position.

“I think it’s accomplished some things. It maybe got Mike back to where he needed to be to be more productive driving in some runs. Right now Josh isn’t connected with them the way we envisioned. Mark is. Mark’s a guy that, I think there’s no doubt Mark Trumbo’s gotten more out of being connected with Mike and Albert than anywhere else he’s hit in the lineup. I think it’s going to be tough to evaluate all the components until Albert and Josh hit stride.”

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Daily Distractions: Fishing for answers in Salt Lake.

Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo’s power is unquestioned. Who can save the Angels’ sinking ship remains to be seen. (Keith Birmingham/Staff Photographer)

Many comparisons have been made between the 2013 Angels and the 2012 Angels, with both teams beginning the season with high expectations and underachieving badly in the first month. Here’s another point to consider: The Angels’ answer a year ago didn’t come from their major-league ranks.

Rather, it came from Triple-A Salt Lake in the form of Mike Trout. Trout was batting .403/.467/1.091 when he bid the Pacific Coast League adieu, likely for a long time. The biggest problem facing the Angels now is health, with Ryan Madson, Kevin Jepsen, Mark Lowe, Sean Burnett and Jered Weaver forming a potent disabled list. If the five are healthy, 2013 is a different story already.

Since they’re not, it’s tempting – but disappointing – to peek at who’s waiting in the wings at Triple-A. There is no Mike Trout.

If you’re looking for pitching help, the Bees’ top five starters are 6-12 with a 6.43 earned-run average. That doesn’t include recent signee Kip Wells, who allowed two runs in seven innings in his debut Sunday. And it’s not as if the Angels aren’t already auditioning arms — they’ve used 18 pitchers already this season with a 19th, Ryan Brasier, on the 25-man roster waiting to make his debut. No major-league team has used more than 19 pitchers this season.

As position players go, Luis Jimenez has been a nice lift in the lineup and on the field since being recalled. But a number-nine hitter can only do so much; his three singles in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position (.273, two RBIs) are sadly above average for this team (.225).

Bill Hall and Matt Young, two veterans who vied for major-league jobs in spring training, are hitting .206 and .241, respectively. Brad Hawpe is batting .237 with one home run to show for his first 38 at-bats.

So it’s probably not a question of who is ready to step up from Triple-A. It’s who will start pitching, who will start hitting, and who is available on the trade market?

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Daily Distractions: The All-Star ballot is out and, hey, Mike Trout is on it this time!

Mike Trout

Angels left fielder Mike Trout has the distinction of making his first All-Star ballot after making his first All-Star team. (Getty Images)

For all the virtues of Mike Trout‘s 2012 season, a place on the All-Star ballot was not among them.

Trout, who started the season in Triple-A, wasn’t one of the three Angels outfielders listed on the 2012 fan ballot. Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos were. Mark Trumbo was listed as a third baseman.

That’s because players’ names must be submitted to the league before MLB’s deadline for printing the ballots, which varies from year to year but typically falls somewhere in late April. The general manager or the assistant GM of each team is responsible for submitting the names. Even Jerry Dipoto couldn’t have foreseen Trout leading the world in runs, stolen bases and WAR last season.

Trout played in the 2012 All-Star Game anyway. He was listed on the players’ ballot distributed in June and collected enough votes to make the American League squad as a reserve.

This year, fans get their chance to vote Trout in. The ballot was released today. The Angels’ other candidates are predictable: Chris Iannetta (catcher), Albert Pujols (first base), Howie Kendrick (second base), Erick Aybar (shortstop), Alberto Callaspo (third base), Mark Trumbo (designated hitter), and Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton (outfield).

Some bullet points for a Wednesday morning:

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Mike Trout is batting second, Alberto Callaspo first, as Angels shuffle lineup.

Alberto Callaspo

Albert Callaspo batted leadoff 12 times for the Angels in 2010, hitting .148 with a .179 on-base percentage. He returns to the top of the lineup Thursday. (Associated Press)

Mike Trout has one career start as the Angels’ number-two hitter.

Alberto Callaspo said he didn’t remember the last time he batted leadoff.

Yet that’s where they’ll be batting tonight against the Oakland A’s, and for the immediate future.

It was the first thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked about in his pregame media scrum. The first thing he said in response: “I think it’s just really a common sense move.”

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Daily Distractions: Angels right fielder Josh Hamilton gave Rangers fans the football sign. What’s the football sign?

Josh Hamilton

Did Josh Hamilton strike a Heisman pose over the weekend? How does one confuse that with a middle finger? (Associated Press photo)

So a 2-4 record is no good, and losing two of three to the Texas Rangers is no good, and Jered Weaver hurting his elbow on national television is no good for the Angels. But this exchange, as relayed by USA Today, is good:

There were comments posted on Twitter that [Josh] Hamilton, who spent the last five years in Texas, reacted to the Rangers’ boos and taunts with an obscene gesture, but Hamilton vehemently denied the accusations.

“I would never do that, ever,” said Hamilton, a devout Christian. “I think it was the other way around. Many times.”

The only gesture that Hamilton made, he said, was making football signs, poking fun at the fans’ outrage over his comments calling the Dallas-Fort Worth area a “football town.”

“I gave him the football sign,” Hamilton said. “But I would never flip anyone off.”

Hamilton said he didn’t find irony in the fact that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday, whom he met before the game and took pictures.

My follow up: Do you find irony in the fact that there’s a “football sign” in Texas? Pardon my Californian ignorance, but can anyone in Texas tell me what the football sign is?

Onto some links:

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How Mike Trout solved Derek Holland and gave the Angels a 2-1 lead.

Mike Trout‘s RBI double in his third at-bat Friday against Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland was a quintessential example of Trout’s ability to adjust to a pitcher mid-game.

Trout saw two mid-90s sliders over the outside corner in the first inning and grounded out to shortstop on the second pitch. Holland struck out Trout in the third inning, tying Trout up on an inside slider.

The double came on another inside slider, one that caught a bit more of the plate. Holland had been pounding Trout inside during the at-bat (only one of the five pitches was not), and Trout clearly knew what to look for. The double drove in Chris Iannetta with the go-ahead run. The Angels still lead 2-1 in the sixth inning.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com cited a scary Trout stat the other day on his blog, breaking down Trout’s performance against a pitcher the first, second, third and fourth time he faced him in a game in 2012:

1st : .860 OPS 7 walks 35 strikeouts
2nd: 1.042 OPS 10 walks 25 strikeouts
3rd: 1.198 OPS 17 walks 17 strikeouts
4th: 1.244 OPS 4 walks, 6 strikeouts

Today was just another example of Trout being Trout.

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