ANAHEIM -- For the first time since he took over the Angels in 2000, manager Mike Scioscia has a new hitting coach, the byproduct of a decision that was announced by general manager Jerry Dipoto on Tuesday -- and one Scioscia apparently had little say in.Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher, who was replaced by Triple-A hitting coach Jim Eppard as a result of the club's head-scratching offensive struggles, go back a long time. They played together on the Dodgers from 1987-90, worked together when Scioscia managed the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate in 1999 and traveled together to Anaheim the following season. Scioscia wouldn't go into details Wednesday about the decision to dismiss Hatcher, but it's clear the last thing he wanted to see was his good friend go. "Great teacher, great hitting coach," Scioscia said. "We all respect what the general manager's office is about, and the moves Jerry's looking at to move us forward, and we'll move forward. "Obviously the GM's position is to try to make changes, whether it's personnel or staffing, that he believes are going to help us [get] better, and we have to respect that." Under Hatcher's direction, the 2009 group set franchise records in batting average, hits, runs and RBIs. But from 2010-11, the Angels ranked no better than ninth in the AL in runs. And this year, almost everything about the Angels' disappointing start -- 16-21 and seven games out of first place despite a $154 million payroll -- points to the offense, which was expected to improve with the signing of Albert Pujols and the return to health of Kendrys Morales. With Pujols, Erick Aybar and Vernon Wells especially struggling, the Angels have been shut out a Major League-high eight times, rank 27th in the Majors in runs per game and are 11th in the American League in OPS. And because of that, some in the Angels' fan base wanted to see Hatcher go. They got their wish. "It's really unfortunate, and downright unfair for the most part, that people from their couch are going to call for this guy's job for years and years," Angels slugger Mark Trumbo said. "It's not him that's in the batter's box. Mickey puts in the time. He provided everything I needed as a player, to go up there and have the best chance of success. If I was to fail, it wouldn't be on him. It's not his fault." "One thing I can say is I have a lot of respect for Mickey," Pujols said. "He never took his job for granted. He was a guy that was always positive, even though we were going through some struggles." A lot of Angels players felt that way on Wednesday. But, as Dipoto said in a phone interview Tuesday, "This is unfortunately a situation where a message needs to be sent, and a philosophy needs to be instilled." "They're not easy decisions to make," Dipoto said in a scrum with reporters Wednesday. "You think long and hard about them. There was a lot of discussion. This is a decision that was made for the organization."
Eppard suited to hit ground running in Anaheim
ANAHEIM -- How much impact will a change at hitting coach have on an underachieving offense? That remains to be seen. With Jim Eppard, called up from Triple-A to replace the dismissed Mickey Hatcher on Tuesday, the Angels at least know they have familiarity.Eppard spent the previous nine years as hitting coach at the club's affiliate in Salt Lake, working with a variety of the players that currently reside in the Angels' clubhouse -- from Mark Trumbo to Peter Bourjos, Howie Kendrick, Kendrys Morales, Erick Aybar and several others. "I'm pretty familiar with the group," Eppard said. "He knew the right things, he teaches the right things, he talks about the right things," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "I think any time you're making a change, you want to have someone internal who can run with it and give them an opportunity to sink their teeth into a job. That's what Jim is going to get, that opportunity." The Angels, Dipoto felt, needed "a new voice" after not ranking any better than ninth in the American League in runs from 2010-11 and vastly underachieving on that end this season -- getting shut out a Major League-high eight times while ranking 27th in the Majors in runs per game and 11th in the AL in OPS. Dipoto wants to establish a philosophy throughout the organization of controlling counts, drawing walks and, ultimately, boasting high on-base percentages. Problem: The Angels have a lot of veterans who don't really have a history of high on-base percentages. "But you can make it better," Dipoto said. "You can make it better by understanding situations, by attacking situations and by laying the foundation for future growth. Really, those are my only expectations -- that we see a tangible result between now and the end of the year in our ability to lay a foundation offensively that we can build on." Eppard, 52, was born in South Bend, Ind., attended the University of California-Berkeley and spent 12 years in pro baseball, winning four Minor League batting titles and compiling 82 games through four seasons in the Majors, including parts of three years with the Angels from 1987-89. Eppard spent eight seasons in the Rockies' Minor League system, including five as manager, then began his 10-year run with the Salt Lake Bees. Through that time, he's had several stints with the Angels in Spring Training, and in September when the Minor League season was over. "He's got a great understanding of hitting," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a good friend and longtime colleague of Hatcher. "I think he's a great teacher, with a lot of the same attributes that Mickey had, and hopefully he'll keep getting these guys in a comfort zone." Eppard, busy coaching the Bees, hasn't paid too close attention to the Angels this season. And as of Wednesday afternoon, Eppard still hadn't had an opportunity to speak with Albert Pujols, the $240 million first baseman who hit only his second homer on Wednesday. "For me, it's just a matter of coming in, saying hi to everybody, getting familiar with them and for them to reacquaint themselves with me and start working," Eppard said. "I think the important thing is that we're going to get back to some basics of trying to get good pitches to hit, and when we get those good pitches to hit, we're not going to be hesitating on the swing."
Scioscia spoke to Torii Hunter on Wednesday but still doesn't have a gauge of when he'll return.
"Again, it's a personal matter," Scioscia said. "He obviously has a lot on his plate that he's dealing with, and that's where we're going to leave it."Hunter has been on the restricted list since Monday while dealing with the situation surrounding his 17-year-old son, who was one of five arrested in Prosper, Texas, on Monday, stemming from a monthlong investigation into an alleged sexual assault, according to a release issued by the Prosper Police Department. Catcher Chris Iannetta, out 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery on his right wrist on Friday, had his splint removed Wednesday. Iannetta and starter Jered Weaver were presented with some memorabilia from the May 2 no-hitter before Wednesday's game against the White Sox. Weaver got a shadow box with the official lineup card, the lineup card from each side's dugout, a game ticket, the ball that went for the final out and four pictures.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.