Sandoval earns Nevin's praise for Team Mexico win over USA
Davidson sharp vs. Mariners; catching decision looms for Angels
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chase Field was packed on Sunday night for a raucous World Baseball Classic matchup between Team USA and Mexico. It was a decidedly pro-Team Mexico crowd that featured loud ovations and trumpets blaring as the team from south of the border piled on runs.
Angels manager Phil Nevin watched from the stands as Mexico pulled off an 11-5 stunner over Mike Trout and the Americans, but Nevin was there as a neutral observer because he had players in both dugouts.
“I don’t know if I’ve been in a baseball atmosphere like that, to be honest,” Nevin said Monday before the Angels’ 8-2 Cactus League win over the Mariners. “I mean, I never played in winter ball, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a stadium with that much excitement going on and the music playing and the chants and stuff. It was pretty neat.”
Nationals first baseman Joey Meneses got most of the headlines with two homers and five RBIs for the Mexico offense, but it was Patrick Sandoval who set the tone on the mound. The Angels lefty got the start and held the loaded Team USA lineup to one run on two hits with two strikeouts in three innings, picking up the win in his Classic debut.
The first Angel-on-Angel matchup came in the first inning, with Sandoval striking out Trout and earning the praise of his skipper.
“He was really good,” Nevin said. “That pitch he struck Mike out on, I had a pretty good view of everything last night, I mean, that’s Sandy. It’s good. It was neat to see him pitch on a stage like that.”
The second time through the order, Trout won a nine-pitch battle by drawing a walk. But Sandoval battled back from a 3-0 count and nearly earned another K, as ball four was a borderline pitch. Sandoval shook it off and struck out the next batter, reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt.
“I think he had two pitches -- one to Goldy, one to Trout -- that probably were strikes, could have gone either way, and in an atmosphere like that for Sandy to regroup and make the pitches like that after he did was pretty cool,” said Nevin.
The next high-profile Angels matchup will come on Thursday at the Tokyo Dome when Japan faces Italy in the quarterfinals (3 a.m. PT on FS2). Shohei Ohtani is set to start on the mound for Japan, while David Fletcher figures to be in the lineup for Team Italy.
Davidson looks sharp
Tucker Davidson went three innings against the Mariners, allowing an unearned run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts. The lefty is out of options, perhaps giving him a slight edge in the battle for the sixth-starter role this spring.
“Outside of [a wild pitch] and the leadoff hitter not getting out each inning, I threw the ball well, I thought,” Davidson said. “I thought the slider was really good, had some really good life to the fastball. I felt good about it, just controlling the counts is the biggest thing right now.”
Two of those leadoff hitters to reach were Kolten Wong, with a single in the first and a walk in the third. Wong stole second base both times.
In the third, Davidson threw over to first twice around a pitchout to catcher Matt Thaiss, who threw behind Wong. Under new rules for 2023, if a pitcher disengages a third time and doesn’t pick off the runner, a balk is called and the runner gets the base. Wong took advantage, knowing Davidson couldn't throw over again. Teams are still working on their strategy to hold potential basestealers.
Davidson said that was the second time he’s had a pitchout called for him in professional baseball.
“It’s new and we’re figuring it out,” Davidson said. “I think every team is kind of going through this.”
Might Angels carry three catchers?
The battle to back up starting catcher Max Stassi has been an interesting one at Angels camp. Logan O’Hoppe is the club’s No. 1 prospect and has continued to impress the coaching staff, and Thaiss has been raking in Cactus League play and has made huge strides on defense.
Thaiss began his professional career as a corner infielder, but he switched to catcher in the Minors in 2021 and appeared behind the dish in 13 games with the Angels last year.
“He’s improved a great deal. [Catching coach] Drew [Butera] and Has [third-base coach and former catching coordinator Bill Haselman] have done an awesome job with him,” Nevin said. “I see a completely different guy than I saw last year in a short period of time.”
Further complicating the decision is that Thaiss is out of Minor League options, so the Angels risk losing him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.
“There’s still a lot of things to work out in the next couple of weeks that are going to be tough,” Nevin said. “The best part is that these guys are making it tough on me.”