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Pena racks up K's in final spring start

March 25, 2019

ANAHEIM -- The Angels are counting on Felix Peña to hold down Andrew Heaney's place in the rotation as Heaney recovers from elbow inflammation, and if Sunday's outing against the Dodgers is any indication, he'll fill in just fine. Pena started the Angels' 8-4 victory in the opener of the

ANAHEIM -- The Angels are counting on Felix Peña to hold down Andrew Heaney's place in the rotation as Heaney recovers from elbow inflammation, and if Sunday's outing against the Dodgers is any indication, he'll fill in just fine.

Pena started the Angels' 8-4 victory in the opener of the Freeway Series at Angel Stadium and struck out nine batters -- including Dodgers starters Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock (twice) -- over 3 1/3 innings in his final spring tuneup. He allowed one run on three hits and a pair of walks. The lone blemish was an RBI double by Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy that followed a Corey Seager single in the first inning.

“He’s pitched pretty well all spring, quite frankly,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of the 29-year-old righty, who posted a 3.07 ERA in five exhibitions. “He’s been very solid.”

Pena struck out the side in the first and second frames and would have finished his outing with a 1-2-3 fourth if not for a pair of bobbled balls.

With one out, the Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez struck out on a wild pitch but catcher Jonathan Lucroy couldn't get a handle on the ball to make the throw to first, allowing Hernandez to reach safely. One batter later, Zack Cozart committed an error when his throw pulled Tommy La Stella off the second-base bag on what was a potential double-play ball, ending Pena's night.

Left-hander Williams Jerez contained the damage, however, relieving Pena and retiring the next two batters to end the frame. Pena totaled 80 pitches, and Ausmus estimated Pena will be asked to throw 10 or 15 more in his first regular-season start.

Pena threw 19 changeups, according to Statcast, resulting in seven swinging strikes and one called strike. That changeup has been a focus of Pena's this offseason. His 24 percent usage rate Sunday was notably up from 7 percent in 2018 and 6.9 percent in '17.

"My changeup felt really good; I've been working on it in Spring Training," Pena said via a translator. "It's where I want it to be."

Upton's night ends early
Justin Upton is day to day after leaving Sunday's contest against the Dodgers in the first inning with a left big toe sprain. Upton sustained the injury as he braced himself against the outfield wall while chasing down Muncy's RBI double. After a brief meeting with athletic trainers and manager Brad Ausmus, Upton exited and Peter Bourjos replaced him in left field.

Upton missed much of spring with right knee tendinitis. He only just returned to game action Tuesday, but was on track to be ready for Opening Day.

“It’s frustrating, finally getting back here, playing in a good atmosphere back at home, and I didn’t get the at-bats I wanted to,” Upton said. “But things happen. You take everything that comes at you.

“I hope I walk in here tomorrow and it feels great, but we won’t know until tomorrow. I’ll try and keep some ice on it, see what comes of it.”

Like Mike
The Angels celebrated Mike Trout's contract extension Sunday, hosting a press conference that was open to the public in front of the ballpark's main entrance. The celebration brings to mind another time the Angels committed major dollars and at least a decade to a superstar player: 2012, when they inked Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract.

The 39-year-old slugger showed Sunday he still has plenty of power left in the tank with a two-run homer against Dodgers right-hander Dylan Floro in the fourth inning. Pujols enters the 2019 campaign 67 home runs shy of joining Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as the only players to hit 700 in their careers.

"People lose sight of the fact that Albert was Mike Trout back in 2002, 2003, 2004," Ausmus said. "I had the misfortune of having to play against Albert and the Cardinals almost 20 times a year for a number of years when I played in Houston. He was the most feared hitter in the game, period, for a decade."

He said it
"Big day. [Trout] should be proud of everything he's done. He deserves the contract he got. Hopefully he continues to wow the fans for another dozen years." -- Ausmus, on celebrating Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension

Worth noting
• The Angels' return to the Big A also means the return of regular Statcast tracking. Brandon Marsh hauled in a four-star diving catch in the eighth inning, robbing the Dodgers' Omar Estevez of a hit. It had a catch probability of 35 percent, and Marsh had to cover 43 feet in 3.2 seconds.

Trout lit up the radar gun with a 111.7 mph RBI double in the third inning. Trout put 29 balls in play at 110 mph exit velocity or greater in 2018, tying him with Marcell Ozuna for sixth-most in the big leagues last season.

• There was no update on Shohei Ohtani's rehab progress Sunday, but Ausmus said the plan is for Ohtani to remain with the Angels to begin the season rather than returning to the club's Spring Training complex in Tempe, Ariz.

Up next
The Angels continue the Freeway Series against the Dodgers with Game 2 on Monday at 7:07 p.m. PT in Anaheim. Right-handed reliever Ty Buttrey, who owns a 2.35 ERA this spring, will start opposite the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda. The contest will be available on MLB.TV.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.