MILWAUKEE -- The Angels' year-long struggles with holding runners were exposed over a two-game stretch from Aug. 6-7, when the Rangers compiled 13 stolen bases.
Since then, though, they've been much better at controlling the running game.
Thirteen steals in 18 innings has a way of creating a sense of urgency.
"I think a lot of guys started putting an emphasis on being quicker to the plate," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said of the pitchers. "I mean, that was the elephant in the room. The glaring issue for why we were giving up too many stolen bases was because we were just too slow to the plate as a pitching staff. We had a lot of guys work hard at it."
Entering Sunday, the Angels were still tied with the Tigers for the second-most stolen bases allowed in the Majors with 106, nine short of the first-place Red Sox. But since Aug. 9, and prior to Sunday's first pitch, they've allowed only five stolen bases (tied with the Cardinals for fewest in baseball) and thrown out six runners (tied for sixth-most).
"It's not to the perfection of where we'd like it to be," catcher Hank Conger said, "but it definitely has improved drastically."
The better numbers have a lot to do with Tommy Hanson (awfully slow to the plate from the stretch) and Joe Blanton (who has allowed a lot of baserunners this year) no longer being in the rotation.
But for most pitchers, their time to the plate has also improved.
"On an individual basis, there are a lot of pitchers doing a lot better job with it," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, specifically citing Garrett Richards. "Some pitchers still have a lot of work to go. But as a group, I think statistically, we've controlled the running game a lot better in the last month. That's due to the emphasis by some pitchers to do a little bit of a better job, and also the fact that we're pitching better and giving some teams fewer opportunities."
On Aug. 6, with Richards starting and Iannetta behind the plate, the Rangers stole six bases, the most the Angels had allowed in a nine-inning game since 1992. And afterwards, Scioscia said: "If this is going to become an Instructional League, we need to make some changes."
On Aug. 7, with Hanson starting and Conger behind the plate, the Rangers stole seven bases, tied for the franchise record. And afterwards, Scioscia admitted: "There's some areas that are important to us that we're just not very good at right now."
Throughout the year, Scioscia has emphasized that the egregious stolen-base numbers were due in large part to the pitchers being slow to the plate, not anything Iannetta and Conger were doing incorrectly behind the plate.
And after those two games, it's almost as if a light switch has come on.
"I think it was always known internally what the issue was, but it takes a lot to put those actions in place," Iannetta said. "We finally, as a group, came together and said, 'We have to get this done; it's a necessity.'"
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.Less