White Sox-Angels Preview
By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- Game No. 1 under Los Angeles Angels new hitting coach Jim Eppard would have to be considered an overwhelming success. The team plated its most runs in more than a week, and most importantly, Albert Pujols homered.
Hoping a change to the hitting coach is all the team needed to awaken the offense, Pujols and the Angels go for a third straight win in the finale of a brief two-game series with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday afternoon.
With Pujols and the offense off to a sluggish start, Los Angeles fired Mickey Hatcher - the club's hitting coach since 2000 - on Tuesday. The decision to replace Hatcher with Eppard, who was the hitting coach at Triple-A Salt Lake, initially appears to be a good one.
The team responded by pounding out 12 hits - including Pujols' three-run homer and Vernon Wells' two-run shot - in Wednesday's 7-2 victory over the White Sox (17-21).
"I think the world of Mickey Hatcher. I really do. I think he's a wonderful person and a hard worker," general manager Jerry DiPoto said. "But sometimes I do believe you need a different voice, and this might be that time. I hope this is a spark. I don't have a crystal ball, but I believe over time that it should make a difference."
The Angels, winners of 10 of 16, are hoping Pujols' homer is a sign of things to come. The three-time NL MVP is batting a meager .213 with two homers and has gone 14 games without a double.
He'll be getting his first look at probable starter Chris Sale (3-2, 3.08 ERA) on Thursday.
Sale returned to Chicago's rotation Saturday against Kansas City after briefly being sent to the bullpen to take over as closer. The left-hander was moved into a relief role due to concerns about his sore throwing elbow, but he was inserted back into the rotation after his MRI came back negative.
Sale got off to a rocky start against the Royals, yielding three runs and four hits in the first inning. He then scattered three hits over four scoreless innings before coming out after throwing 103 pitches, but the damage was done in a 5-0 loss.
"My arm felt great, my body felt good, my mind was right, I just didn't put it all together," said Sale, who has thrown two scoreless innings of relief against the Angels. "I was mentally and physically prepared for this start, just like any other. It just wasn't there."
Paul Konerko singled three times Wednesday - his second straight three-hit game - to raise his batting average to .356. He is 3 for 11 against C.J. Wilson (4-3, 3.42 ERA), who is slated to take the ball finale after getting the usually four days of rest between starts. That's four more days then he had between his last two outings.
Wilson last pitched Saturday against Texas, yielding two runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-2 win, though didn't get the decision. He also started against his former team the night before, but faced only five batters before a 1 hour, 56-minute rain delay in the first inning ended his night.
The limited workload against the Rangers on Friday made it possible for the left-hander to become the first major leaguer to start consecutive games since Aaron Myette for Texas on Sept. 3 and 4, 2002.
Wilson has had a much longer stretch between starts against the White Sox, facing them once in 2010 and once last season. He has posted a 2.19 ERA in winning both outings.
Updated May 17, 2012