Angels seeing 'a different Luis' as Rengifo stays hot at plate

September 7th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- Not much has been going right for the Angels recently. ’s bat is an exception.

The shortstop extended his hit streak to a career-high 14 games by going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in a 10-3 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium. It was the sixth straight defeat for the Angels, who were swept in three games and have lost 12 of their last 15 games. They were without Shohei Ohtani, who missed the series with right oblique tightness sustained on a swing during batting practice on Monday.

Much like last year, it took Rengifo some time to get things going, but he’s been the club’s second-best hitter in the second half behind only Ohtani. Rengifo has slashed .318/.374/.587 with 11 homers, nine doubles, three triples and 29 RBIs in 49 games since the All-Star break. His RBIs lead the club over that stretch and his homers rank second to Ohtani's 12.

“Personally, I’ve been feeling good in the box and making my adjustments,” Rengifo said. “I stick with my plan every time I go to the box. I feel more comfortable and I’m able to attack more pitches and have better control of the strike zone.”

Rengifo has been even hotter recently, batting .443 with five homers and 14 RBIs over his last 16 games. He won the AL Player of the Week award for his efforts last week when he hit .440 with three homers and seven RBIs. He’s also become a more patient hitter, as he’s walked 41 times in 125 games this year compared to just 17 times in 127 games last year.

“He’s in a really good place,” manager Phil Nevin said. “Sometimes, you just click with somebody. I think the game plan and the routine he has with [hitting coach] Marcus [Thames], they’ve just hit it off. I know he played well late last season, but this is a different Luis we’re seeing. There’s more power, there’s more walks, less chase and swinging at the right pitches.”

Rengifo singled in the first off right-hander Kyle Gibson and added a two-run blast in the third inning for his 16th homer of the season. But it wasn’t enough, as the Angels found themselves in an early 5-0 hole after lefty struggled and couldn’t overcome an error from Rengifo at shortstop to open the third.

The inning spiraled after Rengifo’s miscue, as Sandoval issued back-to-back walks with one out to load the bases. He then gave up a two-run single to Austin Hays before getting Gunnar Henderson to pop out to Rengifo at shortstop.

Sandoval was then hurt by his own misplay, as he fielded a slow roller down the third-base line from Ramón Urías that looked like it could have been heading foul. Instead, Sandoval picked it up and it went for an infield single. Aaron Hicks followed with a two-run single. It ended up being a disaster of an inning, with three of the runs being unearned after Rengifo’s blunder.

“I’ve just been grinding,” Sandoval said. “It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve just been trying to find a rhythm and trying to get things to click.”

Sandoval got through the fourth and fifth innings unscathed but walked the first two batters he faced in the sixth before being removed for Jaime Barria. Barria allowed both inherited runners to score and the runs were charged to Sandoval, whose final line was seven runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks over five-plus innings to fall to 7-12 with a 4.31 ERA in 25 starts.

Barria, who was a candidate to start on Thursday with Chase Silseth still out due to a concussion, was forced to pitch in long relief and gave up back-to-back homers in the eighth to Anthony Santander and Hays to complete another rough night for Angels pitchers. Nevin said it was a tough situation for Barria, who threw three innings on 66 pitches to help pick up the bullpen.

“We were up against it tomorrow,” Nevin said. “Jaime has been so good for us and I hate leaving him out there just because we’re up against it. I just hate leaving him out there when that happens.”

The Angels will now turn to a bullpen game for the series opener against the Guardians on Thursday and could make a roster move to bring up another pitcher.

“It’ll be more of a like a bullpen day,” Nevin said. “There's a couple of options to start. We’ll figure that out tomorrow.”