PHOENIX -- New season, new number, new … position?
David Fletcher has made himself a commodity in Southern California due to his ability to play all over the diamond with the Angels last season, seamlessly acclimating himself to any of his new positions.
Now, early on in spring camp -- donning No. 22 after a swap with the newly-signed Anthony Rendon -- Fletcher seems poised to add a new position to his tool belt.
Fletcher has played just 14 innings in right field in his professional career -- all in the Majors with the Angels in 2018-19 -- but he drew the start roaming right during Monday’s 2-1 defeat to the Brewers at American Family Fields of Phoenix, a move that Halos manager Joe Maddon indicated could be par for the course moving forward.
“The guys that have seen him, they’re really effusive in their praise of him. He’s supposed to be really good,” Maddon said of Fletcher’s defensive acumen in right.
Fletcher finished 1-for-2 at the plate on Monday, legging out an infield single down the third-base line in the fourth inning.
In games that Fletcher played last season, the Angels finished with a 69-85 record. During losses, he hit .263 with a .658 OPS; but during victories he was an offensive catalyst, hitting .327 with an .835 OPS, drawing more walks (30) than strikeouts (24).
Irrespective of where he plays with the glove, it’s clear that Maddon and the Angels are trying to find a way to get Fletcher’s bat into the lineup. Despite finishing in the bottom two percent of the Majors in barrel percentage last year (0.4) and in the bottom three percent in exit velocity (83.7), Fletcher’s expected batting average (.302) placed in the top four percent among qualified hitters.
“I know he’s going to play some right field,” Maddon said. “He’s going to play some second base. He’ll give [Andrelton] Simmons a rest at shortstop. He can give Rendon a rest at third. … Guys like him, with everybody being healthy, then you have to start planning on how to get him in there. Guys do get banged up, guys need rest and then all of a sudden he’s playing more than you thought. But I want to get him in the game as often as possible because I think he’s that good.”
Buchter’s first time on bump
Southpaw Ryan Buchter made his Angels debut on Monday and worked a 1-2-3 third inning, tying a knot around his outing by getting Milwaukee’s second and third hitters, Keston Hiura and Avisail Garcia, to strike out looking.
“He looked really good,” Maddon said, noting that Buchter's velocity was clocked as high as 94 mph.
If Buchter’s name is a familiar one, it’s likely due to the time that he spent with Oakland over the past two seasons in which he compiled a 2.87 ERA across 118 appearances in relief. A 6-foot-4 left-hander that has stymied left-handed hitters (.187 career opponents' batting average) in five big league seasons, Buchter figures to feature prominently in the competition for a bullpen spot.
“He was kind of impressed with himself that he had that good of a first outing,” Maddon noted. “He was really sharp.”
Peña injury update
Right-hander Félix Peña is doing well in his rehab from the torn ACL in his right knee that preemptively ended his 2019 season.
“There have been no setbacks,” Maddon confirmed on Monday. “I think what’s happened is that he’s gained more confidence, no question. He knows that he belongs here and that he can do this. … I’ve seen a more mature individual now when I talk to him.”
As far as not being stretched out enough to start off the season in the rotation, Maddon conceded that Peña would likely have to begin the year in the bullpen.
“The only way to get him ready right now is for him to be a relief pitcher,” Maddon said. “It might be an ‘opener’ kind of thing, he might be ready to do something like that, but right now I want him to get ready, feel good about it. … He’s really valuable because he can do so many different things.”
The Angels are expected to have many familiar faces in the lineup on Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium vs. the Reds at 12:10 p.m. PT. Rendon, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton are expected to headline, while Dylan Bundy makes his first appearance in a Halos uniform on the mound. Cincinnati counters with right-hander José De León.