By Chad Stewart
The Angels went 4-1 this week with three ties to improve their Spring Training record to 10-7. The week was highlighted by a pair of quality performances by Andrew Heaney, and Albert Pujols launching two home runs in one inning.
Heaney was great in his Spring debut last week, and his two starts this week were no different. He allowed one run on five hits in three innings in his start on Tuesday against the Mariners. On Sunday, the lefty made his second start of the week — against the division-rival Rangers — and allowed one run on a solo home run, four hits, and struck out five in four innings. With the amount of injuries and general inconsistencies among starting rotation candidates, it is important that Heaney establishes himself as the number two starter in the rotation. His success this Spring makes it seem like he will have no problem doing so.
Coming into the week, Pujols was having a good Spring, but he hadn’t done anything spectacular. That was until Saturday afternoon when he made his presence known in a 15-7 Angels victory over the Brewers. The Angels were losing 5-2 through two innings. Then Pujols stepped up to the plate to lead off the third inning. On an 0-1 count, he got a high fastball and did not miss it, crushing it over the left field wall for his second home run of the Spring. That home run seemed to ignite the Angels’ offense, as they scored five more runs before Pujols came to the plate for the second time in the inning; this time with a runner on first. He rarely swings at the first pitch of an at-bat, but he jumped all over the first pitch of this one and belted it to left field, even deeper than the first, for his second home run of the inning, capping off an eight-run third inning. This feat was last accomplished in a regular season game in 2013 by Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
Left fielder Daniel Nava showed no signs of slowing down this week, hitting his first home run of the Spring and continuing to get on base at an obscene rate. His average now sits at .517, and he has eight RBI to go with eight walks and four doubles. If he can stay healthy this year and if his numbers return to his career norms, the Angels’ lineup will be deepened considerably, and the offense should be nowhere near as abysmal as it was last year. Paired with Yunel Escobar at the top of lineup, Nava’s ability to get on base will provide many more opportunities for Trout and Pujols to drive in runs, as well as allow Kole Calhoun to slot into the fifth spot behind Pujols, giving him more RBI opportunities. Nava’s health and consistent production is vital to the Angels, and he is providing reason for optimism on both fronts thus far. Nava has possibly seized the everyday left field job, and a platoon may no longer be necessary, but it is worth mentioning that Craig Gentry has also had a solid Spring. At the very least, Gentry will provide speed and excellent defense off the bench.
All of the players expected to play impactful roles on the team have continued playing well, but some of the under-the-radar players have flourished as well. Outfielder Nick Buss has taken advantage of limited playing time this Spring, going 10-for-25 with six RBI and two stolen bases. Infielder Gregorio Petit struggled mightily before this week, but he finally found his stroke on Wednesday, homering twice. Fellow infielder Jefry Marte is now hitting .31o with five doubles and a home run. None of the three will make the Opening Day roster, but they should provide some much needed depth at Triple-A.
While all of the uncertainties surrounding the offense seem to have been solved, there are still many regarding the starting rotation due to the injuries of C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Tyler Skaggs. However, both Weaver and Skaggs are set to return to major league action next week, hopefully squashing any health concerns there are with the two.