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Aybar brothers thriving in starting roles

Aybar brothers thriving

ST. PETERSBURG -- Angels shortstop Erick Aybar took a hit away from his big brother, Willy, on Monday night at Tropicana Field, back-handing a bullet headed toward left field and starting a double play in the seventh inning.

It was the latest in a season-long string of highlight-reel plays by the gifted shortstop from the Dominican Republic. "He was happy anyway," Erick Aybar said of Willy, the Rays' third baseman. "He had three hits. We played against each other when he was with the Dodgers two years ago, but it was the first time I took one away from him."

Willy Aybar has been handling third base with All-Star Evan Longoria sidelined with a right wrist fracture. The Rays have rolled right along with Aybar doing his part by batting .350 with three homers and a .700 slugging percentage, raising his average from .222 to .246 in the process.

Erick, 10 months younger than Willy at 24 and about 35 pounds lighter at 170, will be a pivotal figure down the stretch for the Angels with Maicer Izturis out for the season.

Izturis underwent surgery on his left thumb on Tuesday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia reported that it "went as well as expected" and that Izturis should be ready for Spring Training. Now backing up Aybar at shortstop is Sean Rodriguez, who excelled defensively at second base when Howie Kendrick and Izturis were both sidelined.

"It wasn't too long ago, when Izzy was down [with a lower back strain], that Erick played as well as anybody in baseball" at shortstop, Scioscia said. "We feel very comfortable there with Erick and Sean."

Aybar has been productive batting in the No. 2 spot in the order, in front of Mark Teixeira. He's hitting .282 on the season and has hit safely in 28 of his past 36 games. Aybar started 38 consecutive games at shortstop before dislocating his right pinkie diving for a ball in Toronto.

"He has to stay aggressive," Angels infield coach Alfredo Griffin said. "You can't worry about getting injured, and you can't change what a guy does in the field. That's instinct. You've got to play hard. Erick is a confident player, quick, with range and a strong arm. He's doing the job for us."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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