'The pop is real': Mayfield on a tear vs. former team Astros

April 20th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Jack Mayfield has had a fast start to the season, in part because he’s performed well against the team he was with when he debuted in the big leagues three years ago. The utility infielder -- who has received ample playing time so far as insurance for injured and ailing players -- has played four games against the Astros this season. And he’s hit well in all of them.

Mayfield has hit safely in all seven games he’s played, in fact, and his 13-game hitting streak dating back to last season is tied with the Guardians' José Ramírez for the longest active streak in the Majors.

After his 2-for-4 performance in the Angels’ 7-2 win Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, he’s slashing .360/.429/.600 on the year. He’s logged six hits in 13 at-bats against the Astros, and he was a contributor to the Angels’ big fifth inning that put the game out of reach.

“Jackie plays that way,” manager Joe Maddon said. “If you look at his Minor League numbers, they were good. It's not like this is a surprise. He is a classic example of somebody needing an opportunity.”

It is exactly for that reason Mayfield has found a nice landing spot with the Angels. During his two years with Houston in 2019 and ‘20, he had to fight for playing time in a lineup with few holes on a roster that was one of the deepest in the American League.

Mayfield’s abilities as a utility player who hits left-handers well has been a better fit with the Angels. He started at third base in place of an ill Anthony Rendon in the series opener on Monday, and the next night, as the starting second baseman, Mayfield was right in the middle of the Angels’ five-run fifth frame. Mayfield logged the fourth hit of the inning and kept the line moving for Kurt Suzuki, who doubled him home.

“The pop is real,” Maddon said, adding that when he first saw Mayfield a few years ago, he thought the infielder was nothing more than a “Judy” -- a slap hitter at best. “The ball off the bat is real. He's a really big part of what we're doing.”

Mayfield laughed off any suggestions that he feels a little extra pep when he plays against his former team, crediting his family and his Texas roots -- he’s from Del Rio, Texas, five hours west of Houston -- for any added enthusiasm he feels when playing against the Astros.

But Mayfield did acknowledge that staying in the division -- so far, he’s played in the big leagues for the Astros, Mariners and Angels -- probably helps.

“I think it does,” he said. “I’ve played with a lot of pitchers, and I've seen a lot of the pitchers. I try to feed off of and give my info to a lot of the other hitters as well. There's little nooks and crannies of different pitchers, and little tips. Different things like that.”

The Angels, who are tied for the Major League lead with 16 homers and also tied for the lead in hits, have had to navigate through the first two games in Houston without Mike Trout, who has been out since getting plunked on the hand in Texas. They’re also missing David Fletcher, who is out with a hip strain.  

Remaining competitive in the AL West race for a full season will require a more balanced Angels lineup, one that does not have to rely solely on the top, where Trout, Ohtani and Rendon reside.

That’s where players like Mayfield can step in.

“The staff and the coaches and everyone, they show confidence in me and that definitely helps,” he said. “They make me feel relaxed out there and they trust me. I just have to keep playing my game and stay consistent, stay scrappy, do what I do best. And the main thing of course, is staying healthy, but especially when we're winning like that, it's a lot more fun.”