TEMPE, Ariz. — The question of Jared Walsh’s performance against lefties once again hangs over the Angels’ first baseman.
The Angels now have more answers, though.
Walsh has a career .834 OPS against righties and a .600 OPS against lefties. Even though he’s struggled most of the time against lefties, he has had enough big moments — like a grand slam against Aroldis Chapman — to support the idea that he will hit lefties if given enough opportunity.
Walsh certainly believes that. Manager Phil Nevin also expressed confidence in Walsh, although he added that they have alternatives.
“I think he’s capable of hitting (lefties),” Nevin said. “We’re going to put our best lineup out each day that gives us the best chance to win. If we feel the matchup is right for Jared to face those guys then he will. We certainly have an abundance of right-handed hitters that have a history and a track record of being very successful against lefties.”
Brandon Drury, who played 48 games at first in his career, will start at first for the Angels on Saturday. Gio Urshela has never started a game at first in his big league career, but he’s played there in winter ball, and Nevin said he’s confident in his ability to do it because he “knows what kind of athlete he is.”
Drury has a career .770 OPS against lefties, including .955 last season. Urshela has a .764 OPS against lefties.
Walsh shrugged at the suggestion that there are now more challengers that could send him to the bench against lefties.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” Walsh said.
For now, Walsh said he’s just focused on hitting, period.
This spring Walsh is 8 for 25 (.320) with a .934 OPS. He is 3 for 7 against lefties. After striking out in his first four at-bats against lefties, he has three straight hits.
“I’m just going to get squared away against any pitcher, and get to the lefty thing,” he said. “I work regularly on angle flips against righties and lefties. I think if I stay through the ball more against lefties, there will be more hits in there.”
One certainty in the way the Angels construct their lineup against lefties is that Luis Rengifo will be playing.
“I would anticipate him being out there all the time against lefties,” Nevin said.
Rengifo, a switch-hitter, produced a .909 OPS against lefties last season, compared with .629 against righties.
Where Rengifo will play remains to be seen. He could play second or short, with Drury and Urshela joining him in the infield. Nevin also said he wants to see more of Rengifo in the outfield, including center field.
For now, the Angels would just like to see Rengifo play. Nevin conceded that he is concerned that Rengifo has played in just two of Venezuela’s games in the World Baseball Classic, coming to the plate just five times.
Nevin said he understands that Venezuela is going with its best lineup, and not as concerned with getting Rengifo ready for the season.
“I know that’s part of it,” Nevin said. “They are trying to win games. I’m a little partial. I think he should be out there. Of course when he comes back we’ve got to get him a lot of at-bats, which we can do.”
Venezuela is playing Team USA in a quarterfinal game on Saturday in Miami, so the soonest Rengifo is likely to be back in Angels camp is Monday.
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Nevin said the Angels will use their sixth starter for the first time on April 12, which is their 12th game of the season. He said that they still have four candidates for the role: left-hander Tucker Davidson and right-handers Jaime Barría, Griffin Canning and Chase Silseth. Davidson and Barria are both out of options. Nevin said any of the four could pitch out of the bullpen when he isn’t starting, even though Canning and Silseth haven’t done that yet as professionals. “It’s a difficult decision,” Nevin said. “They are all pitching well.” …
Left-hander José Suarez is scheduled for the Angels’ fifth game of the season. Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval are pitching the first two games, at Oakland on March 30 and April 2. That leaves the uncertainty surrounding Tyler Anderson and Reid Detmers. Anderson pitched the day before Detmers this week, so presumably the Angels are lining up Anderson to start April 3 in Oakland and Detmers the next day in Seattle.