Fletcher won't let Ohtani forget their Classic showdown

1-for-2 performance against Ohtani gives infielder upper hand: 'It was fun facing him'

March 20th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It became a common occurrence late last season for Angels infielder and two-way star to joke back and forth about what would happen if they faced each other in the World Baseball Classic.

They both knew there was a chance Team Italy and Team Japan would play each other in the quarterfinals of the tournament, and it’s exactly what happened on Thursday. Fletcher got the upper hand on his teammate by going 1-for-2 with a single to right field against Ohtani, but Ohtani got the last laugh by throwing 4 2/3 strong innings to help Japan advance with a 9-3 win in front of a frenzied crowd at Tokyo Dome.

“It was fun facing him,” Fletcher said. “He was definitely competing out there and giving us everything he had. He was really into it. Getting to be on the other side of him was definitely something I looked forward to. It was pretty surreal getting to play in the Tokyo Dome and getting to face him. The fans were all awesome and into the game. It was exciting.”

Fletcher, who was eligible to participate because his mother was born in Italy, returned to the Angels’ clubhouse on Sunday and was back in the lineup on Monday against the Reds, starting at shortstop. Fletcher, who went 4-for-20 with a double in five games, said he fully expects to be ready for the start of the season and will see action at second and short leading up to Opening Day on March 30 at Oakland.

Fletcher said the experience was extra special because he had the chance to play with his brother, Dominic, who started in right field, and because he had the chance to face Ohtani.

Fletcher and Ohtani are particularly close as teammates and took a picture on the field after Thursday’s game, a pic that included the mustache Fletcher grew for the tournament only to shave off upon his return to Arizona. He also added he didn’t say anything to Ohtani after the game about his hit against him, but he plans to hold it over him all season.

“I had a blast,” Fletcher said. “It was cool going to different countries and playing different countries in front of those crowds. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Fletcher was one of several Angels to recently return from the Classic, a group that also included (Australia), (Colombia), (Panama), (Israel), (Venezuela) and (Venezuela). and both remain in Florida with Team USA, which advanced to Tuesday’s final at loanDepot park in Miami with its win over Cuba on Sunday.

Rengifo and Quijada both played against Team USA on Saturday. Rengifo replaced Jose Altuve when the Astros star broke his right thumb after being hit by a pitch, and Quijada recorded a huge strikeout of Kyle Tucker to end the seventh but struggled the next inning. Quijada celebrated wildly after his strikeout of Tucker and called it a positive experience despite the loss to Team USA.

“It was just a grand experience that I'm always gonna remember and the emotions that went into my first time playing in the WBC,” Quijada said through an interpreter. “I'm just never gonna forget about it.”

Rengifo also enjoyed his time but played in more of a limited role for Team Venezuela, a trend that worried the Angels. He played in just three games, going 1-for-6. He was back in the lineup at second base on Monday, and manager Phil Nevin said Rengifo will get plenty of at-bats leading up to Opening Day, including seeing time in the outfield this weekend.

“It was incredible,” Rengifo said. “It was loud. I just tried to enjoy every day. I was very proud for all Venezuelan people and my country, too.”

Weiss, who had a 2.70 ERA with five strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings with Team Israel, pitched in relief with the Angels on Sunday, throwing a scoreless inning. Israel didn’t advance out of Pool D play in Miami, but it did automatically qualify for the next Classic with a fourth-place finish in its pool. Weiss, who is competing for the final spot in the bullpen but is more likely to open the year at Triple-A Salt Lake, called it a memorable time.

“It was packed with fans rooting against us -- which makes it fun,” Weiss said. “They were very Latin-heavy crowds. But it was really cool. My parents were there. The fans were just really into it and respectful and it made it fun.”