Bobby Abreu draws three-ball walk in Angels’ victory

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What is it with umpires not knowing the count this year?

Bobby Abreu walked on ball three in the third inning Sunday in the Angels’ 4-2 win over the Mariners.

The walk came with one out and Torii Hunter on first base. Felix Hernandez was able to bounce back and hold the Angels scoreless from there, but he went on to give up a two-run homer to Mark Trumbo in the fourth.

Those were the only two runs Hernandez allowed in a no-decision.

Dan Haren also allowed just two runs, both scoring in the first, in going 8 2/3 innings for his 10th win of the year.  The Angels took the lead off David Pauley in the eighth when Alberto Callaspo doubled in two runs.

In a 4-2 game, Haren nearly got the chance to go the distance, even after Dustin Ackley doubled to start the bottom of the ninth. However, after Haren retired Justin Smoak and Adam Kennedy, manager Mike Scioscia opted to replace him with Jordan Walden, who struck out Franklin Gutierrez to record his 20th save.

The Angels moved to 50-42 and remained one game back of the Rangers, who beat the A’s for their seventh straight win Sunday.  The Angels swept the Mariners and have won four in a row.

For the Mariners, it was the second time this month that they’ve been the victims of a three-ball walk.  San Diego’s Cameron Maybin had one on July 2 and went to score the only run in the Padres’ 1-0 victory.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.