Fletcher faring better as No. 9 hitter

June 5th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- After batted .256/.278/.282 through his first 36 games as the club's leadoff hitter, Angels manager Joe Maddon decided to make a change on May 15.

He moved Fletcher down to the ninth spot in the order, as he wanted to take pressure off him and encourage him to be more aggressive at the plate. The results have been better, especially recently, as he's hitting .260/.327/.340 in 16 games as the club's No. 9 hitter, including .324/.410/.382 in his last 11 games.

Fletcher said he hasn’t changed his approach, but said his mechanics were off early in the season and he didn’t feel as comfortable at the plate.

“I was definitely a little bit off,” Fletcher said. “It happens sometimes. But I’m definitely feeling better at the plate.”

Fletcher, though, still has a long way to get back to his career average, as the 27-year-old entered the season as a .292/.346/.386 hitter in 283 games and signed a five-year extension worth $26 million on Opening Day.

But Maddon is confident that Fletcher will continue to turn it around and believes he needs to continue to be more aggressive early in counts.

"From my perspective, the ball is on a better trajectory and there are not as many fly-ball outs," Maddon said. "Even during some of his early work right now, the ball was definitely more on a line and that's where it needs to stay. I also like it when he's on the pull side. But more than anything, I like it when he's aggressive and early in the count."

Maddon, though, said he plans to keep Fletcher as the club’s No. 9 hitter for now, as veteran Justin Upton has surprisingly adapted well to the leadoff role and Maddon likes Fletcher’s ability to turn the lineup over.

“Right now, I’m just liking it, for lack of a better answer,” Maddon said. “I think it plays pretty good right now. Like [Kean] Wong and Fletch going back-to-back to end the lineup and then getting back to Upton. It’s almost like two leadoff hitters in front of J-Up, so I kind of like it.”

Rodriguez to be used in long relief

Rookie reliever Chris Rodriguez was activated from the 10-day injured list on Thursday after being out since May 5 with right shoulder inflammation and Maddon said he plans to use Rodriguez in a similar role as he did early in the season. Of Rodriguez's eight outings this season, only one was for one inning and he threw as many as 3 1/3 innings in relief.

Rodriguez is likely to ease into his multi-inning stints, however, as Maddon wants to be cautious with him in the early going before he’s fully stretched out for a longer role.

"I want to make sure we don't overextend him too quickly," Maddon said. "But I like him in the middle and we’re trying to hold a small lead or perhaps if we're down a run, but are swinging the bats well. But I got to see it with my own eyes and see where he's at and how the ball is coming out."

Rendon fares well with Maddon’s drill

Maddon created a drill in the 1980s to have a pitching machine deliver smaller baseballs from 33 feet away and 36 inches off the ground to help hitters shorten up their swing and gear up for fastballs better. It’s the equivalent of hitting a 95 mph fastball and the smaller balls -- which weigh the same as normal balls -- force the hitter to aim for a smaller target.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon, infielder Jose Rojas and first baseman Jared Walsh were among those who participated in the drill on the field before Friday’s game. Maddon was impressed by Rendon, who has started to find his timing, but hasn’t homered in 20 games since coming off the injured list on May 14

"He was getting to it as easily as I've ever seen anybody do it," Maddon said. "And the ball was coming out hot, including some homers. Walshy and Rojas also did a nice job with that, but I just liked the way Anthony was on time with everything. So let's see. I think it's right around the corner."