Fueled by Freese, Angels take care of Astros

Fueled by Freese, Angels take care of Astros

ANAHEIM -- Veteran third baseman David Freese was only on the disabled list for 17 days, but it was a long 17 days because his slash line was a paltry .202/.266/.286, because he couldn't wait to return to an Angels team that kept winning and because he was unsure if he could recapture the hot streak he carried before getting hurt.

Tuesday night's game -- a 9-3 win at home over the Astros -- eased those concerns.

Freese drove in four runs in his return from a nondisplaced fracture in his right middle finger, accounting for 50 percent of his output through the previous 24 games and supporting a lights-out Tyler Skaggs as the Angels won for the ninth time in 12 games.

"I just tried to stay confident," Freese said. "I went through the rehab situation pretty seriously down in Tempe and then with the staff down in [Triple-A] Salt Lake, because I knew how well these guys were playing and I wanted to be able to just jump in and jump on that bandwagon that these guys were riding. It's been fun to watch, and now it's fun to be a part of."

The Angels, five games over .500 again, played one of their most complete games of the season in the second game of this three-game series. Every starter had at least one hit, including Howie Kendrick (2-for-3 with two walks, bringing his surging total to 19) and Mike Trout (2-for-3 with three RBIs). Skaggs pitched seven innings of one-run ball, throwing 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes to improve to 4-1 with a 4.14 ERA. And the Angels plated eight runs (three earned) in four-plus innings against Scott Feldman, who was six weeks removed from pitching seven innings of one-run ball against them in Houston.

But Freese stole the show.

"This guy, he knows his way around the batter's box," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He hits in the clutch, and he had a good night tonight."

Freese got the Angels on the board with a two-out, two-run single in the first, then drove in another run in the fifth, when shortstop Jonathan Villar booted his chopper, and capped the scoring in the sixth with a line-drive double off the wall in right-center.

"That pitch was kind of middle-in, and I got through it," said Freese, who is riding an interrupted seven-game hitting streak that has raised his batting average from .143 to .213. "That's big for me. I fouled off a lot of balls tonight that I wish I could have gotten through a little bit better, but it was a productive night."

Freese was on an 8-for-21 stretch when Colby Lewis' fastball caught his right hand on May 2, forcing him to the disabled list. Two weeks later he went on a three-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Salt Lake, drawing four walks and notching two hits in 10 at-bats. Both of those hits were homers, prompting Trout to ask Freese where they were hit.

"When he told me right-center," Trout said, "I knew he was locked in."

Hitting never gave Freese any pain; only throwing. But he fielded four grounders with no problems on Tuesday night and made a nifty play in the seventh, ranging to his left to field a tough short-hop and record the out at first.

"Every day it gets a lot better," Freese said of the slight pain he still feels when throwing.

"It's nice to have Freese back there," Skaggs said. "He's a great player, and he brings a lot of energy to the team, as you saw today."

Right fielder and leadoff man Kole Calhoun, out since April 15 with a sprained right ankle, will be activated off the DL on Wednesday. Left fielder and cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton, out since April 8 after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, hopes to be back by Monday. And if Tuesday was any indication, Freese hasn't skipped a beat.

The Angels had been winning, and now an offense that ranks fourth in the Majors in runs is getting significantly healthier.

"That's big," said Trout, who was removed for a pinch-runner in the fifth as a precaution because of some tightness he's been feeling in his left hamstring. "When we get Kole back and get Josh, get in full strength, it's going to fun. We just need to keep having good at-bats. But seeing Freese-y drive the ball to right-center -- that's Freese."

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.