Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 7/8/12
ANAHEIM, Calif. The Angels hit the All-Star break in perfect stride, with a pair of weekend victories, the best record in the major leagues over the past two months and a collective sense that the best is yet to come. But a four-day respite from the grind of the American League West also comes at a welcome time. With almost half a season left to play and the Texas Rangers still in the lead, the Angels know their work isn't quite done. "We have a long way to go," manager Mike Scioscia said late Sunday afternoon. "Our focus has to be on how we're playing the game, and right now we're playing at a much higher level than we were any time in the first six weeks of the season." The Angels are sending four players to the All-Star Game in Kansas City this week, although one of them, left-hander CJ Wilson, won't play because of a persistent blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He'll be there anyway, along with outfielders Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, both of whom flexed their muscles by crushing home runs in a 6-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, and pitcher Jered Weaver, whose 10-1 record makes him a worthy candidate to start for the American League. Hard to believe this is the same Angels team that started 6-14 before the arrival of Trout from the minors. Since then, they are 42-24, not to mention 30-13 since May 22. Not that the road has been smooth. Pitcher Dan Haren is on the disabled list because of lower-back stiffness, and Ervin Santana has pitched horribly for most of the season. Combined, they're 10-17 with a 5.30 ERA. No. 5 starter Jerome Williams will come off the DL at some point after the break following two rehab starts that resulted from a severe asthma attack last month. Scioscia said he doesn't expect Wilson to miss a start. In fact, Wilson has been pitching with a blister virtually all season. He came out of a May 27 start in Seattle after six innings for the same reason. "At this point, I really haven't been throwing that great, and having issues where it's constantly something I'm fighting against, I don't want to take a risk," Wilson said. "It's like I'm not effective if I'm dealing with it, so who am I helping?" Scioscia found a capable stand-in for Haren in left-hander Brad Mills, who shut out the Orioles on three hits over five innings before the bullpen finished up with four more shutout innings. The Angels didn't allow a run to Baltimore over the final 22 innings of the four-game series. Mills doesn't break 90 mph on the radar gun, but his mix of curveball, changeup, an occasional cutter and a fastball in the mid-80s kept the Orioles off balance. "I don't think my fastball is a gimmick or anything," said Mills, who was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays last winter for catcher Jeff Mathis. "The changeup and curveball are slower, but if I throw them in certain counts and then I pop a heater in there, they're not right on it. They're late. That's what I look for." Mills doesn't know where this start will lead him, but on a team that has had its fill of injured starters, he might get a chance to stick around. All Scioscia would say is that he's on the depth chart. That might be enough for Mills, who missed a month at Triple-A Salt Lake with a sore shoulder and wasn't sure he'd get a chance to pitch for the Angels. "You're sitting up there and everyone else is getting opportunities and the team is winning and you're not even playing in Triple-A," he said. "That's a grind mentally. But you have to persevere and have faith that when you get back you're going to be at a level that can help the team if they need you." Right now, the Angels need him. And with a long way to go in the AL West race, they might need him some more. But first, they need a few days off.
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