ANAHEIM -- Jerry Dipoto didn't figure that his first months as general manager of the Angels were going to transpire quite this way. In the offseason, he came out swinging and signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to contracts worth a total of $317.5 million. The Angels' payroll is $151.4 million for this year. With that spending came all the expectations and pressure. The Angels struggled, coming out of the gate by losing 15 of their first 23 games. They finished the first month nine games behind the two-time defending American League champion Rangers, who open a three-game series at Angel Stadium on Friday night. The Angels are now 26-26 after riding the wave of an eight-game winning streak that ended Wednesday night with a home loss to the Yankees.
"What a difference 10 days can make," said Dipoto, who began to see his club's fortunes change with a 5-0 win over the A's at Oakland on May 22, a week after he dismissed popular hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Hatcher is a close friend and confidante of longtime Angels manager Mike Scioscia, and the move created quite a stir. Dipoto, a former reliever and cancer survivor who was interim GM for the D-backs during the 2010 season, sat down with MLB.com this week to talk about the tumultuous beginning of his first full season as a big league GM. MLB.com: Even during that poor start, you knew the team was eventually going to come around, didn't you? Dipoto: I hoped it would. It was surprising that we struggled as much as we did for six weeks. You have faith in the players. You have faith in the people you have around you. You have faith in leadership. Mike's a good manager. He's been around and been through this a lot. He's averaged 91 wins a year for the better part of a decade. That's hard to do. And it's not like we took a step backward as far as the talent we have on our roster. MLB.com: When Joe Torre managed the Yankees, he used to say that it would take a few months to figure out the personality of a team after major changes in the roster were made. Dipoto: And that's essentially what happened. Not only did we change the dynamic in the clubhouse, but we changed the dynamic in the organization and how it all works. That takes a lot of getting used to. Even Mike had to adjust to an outsider, and I sympathize with that. I'm aggressive by nature, but I also think I'm patient. I certainly understand the human condition. I have great respect for people who do their jobs well and have a history in this game. We have a lot of talent. So I knew we were going to hit some road bumps. But not the kind of struggles we had for six weeks trying to score runs. MLB.com: Well, Albert Pujols had no homers and four RBIs in April. In May, he had eight and 24. That significant uptick in production from him had to cure a lot of those problems. Dipoto: No question, he just finished an Albert Pujols kind of month. Really, he was the least of my concerns, and I told Albert that. Nobody puts more stress or pressure on himself than Albert does. He wants to contribute. He's a huge competitor. He cares. He wants to get out there and do the things that Albert Pujols does. And now he's finally doing them. MLB.com: How has the transition into this job been for you? Dipoto: I feel like I've gotten a little taste of everything. It's been fun. I've enjoyed it. I've learned something new every day. That goes back to my days with the D-backs as an interim GM and working last year with Kevin Towers. I learned new ways to look and think about things, new ways to interact and deal with people on the staff. I feel like I've experienced so many different emotions along the way. There was the thrill of landing guys like Albert and C.J., of putting together a roster that we're all very proud of, of going into Spring Training and playing at a high level and then coming in and having the deflation of playing the way we did for the first month and a half. I felt that just the way every player and staff member did in the clubhouse. We've now battled through our first test. Through that test, you bind together. MLB.com: What went into your thinking behind replacing Hatcher as hitting coach with Jim Eppard? Dipoto: Sometimes you just need a different voice. It's not a lack of belief in the value of continuity. I love continuity. Personally, I love Mickey Hatcher and I think he's a great guy. When you've struggled to score runs and put together an offense the way we have, sometimes you just need to shake it up. We brought in a trusted voice from the Minor Leagues, someone who most of the players on the roster had worked with, someone who they believed in. I thought it was a logical solution for the time being. It was an uncomfortable thing for the organization to get through. Mickey will land on his feet in a good position, because that's what happens to good baseball people. We'll move in a productive direction, and I think we're starting to do that now. MLB.com: Do you think Mike took it personally? Dipoto: That's something I'd rather not talk about. That's between Mike and I. But [Mickey and Mike are] life-long friends. It was hurtful. They'd been together for so long. You believe in each other. You eat with each other. You shower together. You coach together. You entertain each other. That's hard. It's just like that for the players. It was very uncomfortable for the first three or four days, because it's something new. It's something different Mike hadn't experienced as a manager. He always had Mickey with him. But I think he's done a terrific job of getting that group together and moving in a positive direction. MLB.com: Ironically, it seems like the offense has gotten into gear since then. The team scored 35 runs during the winning streak and had been shut out eight times before then. Dipoto: Often times when you make those kinds of changes, it creates a spark. But with the history of these hitters and what most of them have done in their careers, I believe this was going to happen eventually anyway. But the move allowed us to deliver a message to the group that will sustain them as we build a foundation moving forward. How we're going to create runs, how we're going to operate. That's not a knock on Mickey per se. But it's why decisions are made.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.