Cron improving as a defender
Angels' first baseman holding his own while Pujols is limited to DH role
ANAHEIM -- It's been a week since Albert Pujols, dealing with lingering pain in his right foot, last played first base, and C.J. Cron has started every game since. That's not likely to change, with Pujols saying Friday that the pain wasn't improving and he would probably remain at designated hitter for the remainder of the season.
The Angels would prefer to have Pujols in the field, as his defense has been excellent over the course of his career. But Cron isn't the same defensive liability he was last season.
Cron -- similarly to how he has attributed his marked turnaround at the plate over the course of this season to getting everyday at-bats -- credits his regular work in the field for his increased comfort. The facet that's taken the most practice to improve, he said, has been getting more repetitions with second basemen Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston.
"Since I haven't played with really Giavotella or Featherston much, understanding what balls they can get to and what balls I need to go for is the big thing," Cron said Saturday. "That's what I've gotten better at for sure. It's just working with the second baseman on those balls in the hole."
According to FanGraphs' defensive metrics, Cron's range has, in fact, substantially improved at first base compared to 2014. Last year, he cost the Angels significantly because of his range; this season, he's actually added value in that respect.
Pujols is still the superior first baseman, but that's not a knock on Cron. And having Pujols around, always willing to provide advice, has also helped Cron learn the position. If Pujols sees something Cron should be doing differently, Cron said, the veteran lets him know.
Cron said he remembers a time earlier in the year when, on a potential double-play ball, he came off first base to try to block a low relay throw, instead of staying on the base to try to pick the ball out of the dirt. Afterward, Pujols discussed with Cron how he might better pick his spots to come off the bag, the safer move, vs. going for the out but risking a throw getting by him.
"It was a time in the game where we kind of needed that out," Cron said, "so it was definitely better for me to stay on the base and try to make a play at that than to keep the ball in front of me."