A student of the game's history, Willits said he's looking forward to playing in Yankee Stadium against the Yankees starting Friday night. He was hitless in four at-bats in the Bronx last year during one of his stays with the Angels.
Batting .342 with a .422 on-base percentage while hitting safely in 25 of his past 29 games, Willits experienced pain in the leg after sliding into second for his 11th stolen base (without getting caught) in the ninth inning on Wednesday night. He scored the final Angels run in an 8-7 loss, and when he got up the next morning, the pain had intensified.
"When I woke up it was real tight," he said, "but the treatment took some of the soreness out. Honestly, I could play today if I had to. But it's good to give it a little rest."
Manager Mike Scioscia said he hoped the day off would have Willits back in shape for the three games with the Yankees.
"He's a little tight in the hamstring, so we'll keep him off it," Scioscia said. "Hopefully, he'll get back in [the lineup] tomorrow and we'll see how it feels. It's precautionary."
Kendrick also sits:
Having tripled in four at-bats in his first game back from the disabled list, second baseman Howie Kendrick also was given Thursday off by Scioscia. He'd been playing every day for Triple-A Salt Lake for a week to make sure the fractured middle finger in his left hand had fully mended.
Erick Aybar, who flourished in Kendrick's absence, was back at second base.
"We're just working Howie back in," Scioscia said. "We'll get Erick a chance to play today and get Howie back in there tomorrow. We'll let him get his feet on the ground, ease him into it a little bit."
Napoli in groove:
Mike Napoli took his hot bat to the bench on Thursday. Scioscia gave Jose Molina the start behind the plate with young right-hander Ervin Santana trying to fend off critics and end his mysterious road slump.
With an 11-game hitting streak lifting his average to .253, Napoli feels he's back to where he was when he arrived last season from Triple-A Salt Lake and bashed the ball for two months (.327 in May, .281 in June) before slipping into a second-half funk that carried over into the first month of this season.
"I feel like I'm back to where I was," Napoli said, having homered in the first two games of the Detroit series, giving him five for the season. "I'm comfortable with my stance and how I feel up there."
Napoli credits hitting coach Mickey Hatcher with keeping close tabs on his stroke and reminding him quickly when he's straying from what he needs to do.
"Mickey stays on me, and I appreciate that," Napoli said. "He knows my swing and what I need to do. I just have to keep it simple. See the ball, hit the ball. When I'm hitting to all fields, driving the ball to right-center, that's when I know I'm doing the right things."
Stat of the day:
Since their 1-7 season-opening road trip through Milwaukee (against Cleveland), Boston and Oakland, the Angels had gone 10-6 on the road going into Thursday's game. They're 22-10 since starting the season 6-9.
Minor star of the day:
Right-hander Casey Olenberger ran his record to 6-1 for Salt Lake in a 7-2 win over Sacramento on Wednesday. Olenberger, 29, from Piner High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., and Long Beach State, walked one and struck out six in seven innings, shaving his ERA to 3.30.
Jered Weaver (3-3, 3.46) faces 22-year-old right-hander Tyler Clippard (1-0, 1.50) in Friday's 4:05 p.m. PT opener of a three-game set at Yankee Stadium.