Max power! Stassi rockets 13th HR in loss

September 29th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- After a breakout performance in the shortened 2020 season, Angels catcher had to show it was no fluke and that he could replicate his success over the course of a full season.

Stassi hasn’t quite hit like he did in 2020, and has also dealt with a few injuries (concussion, thumb sprain), but he still has been one of the best catchers in the Majors and hit his 13th homer of the year in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers in the series opener at Globe Life Field on Tuesday.

"He's back to where he had begun, the ball is really coming out hot,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “His hands are back. It's an effortless swing. That's what he looked like early. He got off to a great start, lost it for a bit and now he's recapturing it."

Stassi, 30, is hitting .249/.335/.440 with 13 homers, 11 doubles and 35 RBIs in 85 games. This on the heels of batting .278/.352/.533 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 31 games in 2020. He is one of just nine catchers in the Majors with at least 3.0 WAR, per FanGraphs, joining J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, Mike Zunino, Buster Posey, Yasmani Grandal, Sean Murphy, Omar Narváez and Salvador Perez.

Maddon noted that Stassi has started to pick it up a bit recently, as he fared better in the first half of the season. Stassi batted .296 with six homers and 16 RBIs in 38 games before the All-Star break, but is down to a .215 average with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 47 games since. However, Stassi has homered in two of his last three games and is showing signs of finishing strong, with Maddon believing he has done enough to be the club’s primary catcher in 2022.

"When you can make adjustments on the fly at the Major League level, that's a learning experience,” Maddon said. “He had it for a while, lost it for a small window, and now he's getting his hands back and he's really good."

Stassi clubbed a two-run homer on a 1-1 fastball in the second off Rangers right-hander A.J. Alexy to give the Angels an early lead -- though that was all the Halos could muster against Alexy and the Rangers' bullpen.

"I'm not sure how far that one was, but that's as loud as it gets on the field,” Maddon said of Stassi’s blast to left that went a projected 434 feet, per Statcast. “He hit that into the second tank there."

Texas quickly took the lead in the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs off rookie Packy Naughton. Naughton, who made his seventh career appearance and fifth start, was hurt by an RBI double from Jonah Heim before he walked two batters to load the bases. Andy Ibáñez brought home two runs with a single and then Adolis Garcia plated a run with an RBI grounder.

"That's the worst, honestly, because Stassi is right there grinding with me and he puts us up 2-0, and I'm thinking, 'All right, let's throw up a zero,' and then things don't turn out like you planned," Naughton said. "That's honestly the worst feeling, knowing my guys are back there grinding and doing everything they possibly can to keep us in the game, and I go out there and do that."

Naughton, though, said he’s enjoyed working with Stassi and also credited fellow veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki for helping him make progress in his debut season.

"It’s awesome," Naughton said. "What a great teammate, what a great leader. Suzuki, too. Here I am as a 25-year-old rookie, and I get these two guys to catch me. You really can’t draw it up better than that."