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.'"
Williams proving his value over solid stretch
MILWAUKEE -- This is a big stretch for Jerome Williams, the 31-year-old right-hander who's trying to make the Angels' upcoming tender decision a difficult one.
As a third-year arbitration-eligible player, Williams is naturally owed a raise from his 2013 salary of $2 million. That means that if the club decides not to tender Williams a contract in December, the Angels would save about $3 million in payroll commitments for 2014.
This is Williams' goal the rest of the way: "Finish the year strong, hopefully show people -- not only this team, but anybody -- that I can pitch and I can be a part of a rotation."
Lately, he's been moving in the right direction.
On Saturday, Williams pitched six innings of three-run ball to put his ERA at 2.93 over his last 15 1/3 innings, immediately following a nine-start stretch in which he compiled an 8.34 ERA. The Angels are weighing tender decisions for Williams and Tommy Hanson, who's trying to get right in the Minor Leagues and could make about $4.5 million in 2014.
Williams can be valuable to the Angels because of his tireless arm and his flexibility to pitch in relief and spot start. But he has to pitch more consistently. And for that to happen, it all comes down to keeping his effective sinker down in the strike zone.
"That's my main pitch," said Williams, 5-10 with a 4.68 ERA in 32 games (20 starts) this season. "That's what I have to get over for strikes, and then I can work off that."
Angels recall reliever Brasier as rosters expand
MILWAUKEE -- Sunday was the first day of September callups, with Major League rosters expanding from 25 to 40 players. But with each of their top three affiliates in the playoffs, the Angels only called up one player: reliever Ryan Brasier.
Brasier, who arrived at Miller Park about an hour before first pitch for Sunday's series finale, appeared in two Major Leagues games in early May -- giving up two runs in two innings -- and has posted a 4.13 ERA with 10 saves in 38 appearances for Triple-A Salt Lake, with a 3.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.50 WHIP.
Brasier, a 26-year-old right-hander who was drafted in the sixth round in 2007, has a 4.27 ERA in 262 games (37 starts) in the Angels' system.
Others on the Angels' 40-man roster -- which is currently full -- and playing in their Minor League system include pitchers David Carpenter, Tommy Hanson, Nick Maronde, Michael Roth and Daniel Stange, catcher John Hester and infielder Tommy Field.
More callups are expected next week.
Hamilton not in starting lineup, but feeling better
MILWAUKEE -- Josh Hamilton was out of the starting lineup for the third straight game on Sunday, but his left shoulder was feeling a lot better, his migraines had mostly subsided, and he's expected to return to the Angels' lineup for the start of a seven-game homestand on Monday.
Hamilton had been nursing a sore shoulder since the end of last week, prompting him be slotted as the designated hitter for three games against the Rays in the previous series.
On Friday, before the start of an Interleaguse set against the Brewers at Miller Park, Hamilton threw from about 90 feet, was still a little sore, then returned to the team hotel around the second inning because he was dealing with what he called "a tremendous migraine." On Saturday, he stayed away from throwing, took some light batting practice and pinch-hit in the top of the ninth. He lined a double, and scored on Hank Conger's go-ahead two-run homer, before getting taken out for defense in the bottom half of the frame.
Then, on Sunday morning, he threw again with outfield coach Dino Ebel and said the shoulder was back to feeling normal and his headaches had mostly gone away. The 32-year-old outfielder -- batting .333 over his last 19 games -- felt good enough to be in the starting lineup for the series finale, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted to play it safe and keep him out an extra day.
In the seventh inning of the Angels' 5-3 win, Hamilton pinch-hit, was intentionally walked, scored from first and came right out of the game.
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.