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Rookie Fletcher earning more playing time

MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- For the third time this week, David Fletcher earned a start against a right-handed pitcher, signaling that the rookie infielder has begun to entrench himself as an everyday player for the Angels at the expense of the slumping Luis Valbuena.

When he was first called up on June 13, the right-handed-hitting Fletcher drew the majority of his starts against lefties, but he's won more playing time after batting .302 with a .745 OPS over 35 games and suppling steady defense around the infield. He was back in the lineup Saturday, batting ninth and starting at third base over Valbuena against Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez.

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ANAHEIM -- For the third time this week, David Fletcher earned a start against a right-handed pitcher, signaling that the rookie infielder has begun to entrench himself as an everyday player for the Angels at the expense of the slumping Luis Valbuena.

When he was first called up on June 13, the right-handed-hitting Fletcher drew the majority of his starts against lefties, but he's won more playing time after batting .302 with a .745 OPS over 35 games and suppling steady defense around the infield. He was back in the lineup Saturday, batting ninth and starting at third base over Valbuena against Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez.

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"I think that David is a very talented young player," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Some things that he can do, he does extremely well. He's not trying to do things he's not capable of. He has a talent level that's going to let him have an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues."

Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, has struggled to get into an offensive groove all season and entered Saturday hitting .204 with a .599 OPS and nine home runs in 91 games this year. He has not homered since June 23. Valbuena experienced a similar rut last season before coming alive in the second half, when he crushed 16 of his 22 home runs. The Angels have been hoping to see another resurgence from Valbuena, but it has yet to appear.

Despite Valbuena's extended slump, Scioscia had largely stuck with him against righties, but that trend began to shift on Monday, when Fletcher started against White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito. Valbuena was then benched again on Thursday against righty Dylan Covey and Saturday against Hernandez.

"I think he's always been streaky, and we haven't seen the real hot streak yet," Scioscia said earlier this week. "At times he's gotten a little big with his swing. Hopefully he'll make those adjustments and get back to doing some of the things he can do in our lineup."

Catching platoon

The Angels' catching depth was significantly thinned after they traded Martin Maldonado to the Astros in exchange for pitching prospect Patrick Sandoval on Thursday. Maldonado's departure left rookies Jose Briceno and Francisco Arcia -- who entered Saturday with 20 games of Major League experience between them -- to split the duties behind the plate.

Scioscia said that he expects the two young backstops to be platooned for now since neither of them is accustomed to handling a standard Major League workload.

Video: TOR@LAA: Briceno catches Martin stealing in the 9th

"Right now, there's going to be a little platoon because I don't know if either one of them are ready to go out there and catch the 15 straight games that might present itself on the schedule," Scioscia said. "They're both going to get opportunities. We'll mix and match. We're using a certain set of markers, not just in the batter's box."

Arcia, who swings left-handed, made his second MLB start on Saturday against the Mariners. The 28-year-old went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in his memorable Angels debut on Thursday. Briceno, 25, has batted .271 with a .730 OPS and two home runs in 19 games this season.

Injury updates

Shohei Ohtani (sprained elbow ligament) has progressed to throwing from 90 feet on flat ground and appeared to ramp up the intensity during his session on Saturday. Scioscia said Ohtani remains in the early stages of his throwing program and has experienced no setbacks thus far.

Rene Rivera (right knee surgery) remains shut down from baseball activities, but Scioscia said he's "feeling much better." The Angels are hoping Rivera will be able to return in August.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, David Fletcher