Rojas earns first MLB start after strong spring

April 6th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Angels infielder and Anaheim native José Rojas made his first career start against the Astros on Tuesday, getting the nod at third base with a planned day of rest for Anthony Rendon. Additionally, Jared Walsh made just his second career start in right field, moving over from his normal position at first base.

Rojas, 28, is an incredible story, as he was a 36th-round Draft pick in 2016 out of nearby Vanguard University in Costa Mesa but has hit at every level. He surprisingly earned a role on the Opening Day roster and was rewarded with his first start on Tuesday in front of the home crowd. Rojas made his MLB debut on Friday, striking out in a pinch-hit appearance against White Sox closer Liam Hendriks.

“Rojas had such a great spring and I have so much confidence in him, I couldn’t just let him sit,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I think this is one of those things that will benefit us in the long run.”

Rojas went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout in a 4-2 loss on Tuesday, with his family supporting him from the stands.

Walsh, meanwhile, got some work in right field during Spring Training and could fill in there, when needed, to keep his bat in the lineup. He made one start there in 2020 and also moved over to right field in the middle of a game last year, giving him 16 career innings in the outfield in the Majors heading into the game. But Walsh did make 79 starts and 85 appearances in the outfield in the Minors.

The move allowed the Angels to have Albert Pujols at first base and Shohei Ohtani back in the lineup at designated hitter after only serving as a pinch-hitter on Monday.

“He’s a better first baseman than he is an outfielder, but he’s done fine and did a lot of that in Spring Training in workouts,” Maddon said. “He’s done it before. He has great confidence in doing it. The point was to get Ohtani, Pujols and Rojas in the game at the same time. The best move was to give Anthony the day off.”

Scioscia to manage Team USA
Former Angels manager Mike Scioscia was named the manager of Team USA on Tuesday, as Team USA attempts to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Scioscia, 62, managed the Angels from 2000-18, leading the club to six division titles and winning the 2002 World Series. He's the winningest manager in club history with 1,650 victories in 19 years.

Maddon served as Scioscia’s bench coach from 2000-05 and was excited to see Scioscia get the new job, even though Scioscia said Tuesday he doesn’t expect to manage in the Majors again, by choice.

“I absolutely love it,” Maddon said. “It’s great to get him back out there. Him and I had such a great run and such a great relationship here. He’s good for the game. He and I come from the same part of Pennsylvania and we’d always laugh at the same jokes and grew up watching the same TV shows. Maybe [he] didn’t see his sense of humor like I did, but we’d giggle a lot. But the one thing I’ve taken with him was a sense of fearlessness.”

Slegers finding his role in bullpen
Reliever Aaron Slegers was acquired in a trade with the Rays this offseason and has turned in two strong relief appearances with a combined 2 1/3 scoreless innings heading into Tuesday. Slegers, a 6-foot-10 right-hander, has previous experience as a starter, which allows him to go multiple innings like he did Sunday when he threw 1 1/3 critical innings in an eventual 7-4 win over the White Sox. He said getting playoff experience with the Rays has helped his confidence, especially after posting a 1.80 ERA in five innings last postseason.

“I think as a player, just to know that a manager like Joe [Maddon], or last year with Kevin Cash, has that confidence to call on you in a playoff game or a one-run game in April, it’s a big confidence step,” Slegers said. “You have to be mentally ready when that phone goes off and make sure you’re not caught off-guard. Every time that happens, you’re more ready the next time.”

Maddon likes Slegers’ versatility and was pleased that he recovered from back spasms in Spring Training in time to make the roster. Slegers isn’t a prototypical strikeout reliever but induces weak contact and ground balls, which helps him get out of jams.

“I’m OK with pitch-to-contact guys when they know what they’re doing and let the defense behind them make plays,” Maddon said. “When you can find the weak part of the bat, it plays.”