Before super utility man David Fletcher made his first spring training start in right field Monday, Angels manager Joe Maddon wanted one thing to be known: He would not be opposed to seeing Fletcher, a high-contact hitter who batted .290 in a team-high 154 games last season, in the outfield with some frequency.
“I want to get him in the game as often as possible,” Maddon said, “because I think he’s that good.”
It was not the first time Maddon had heaped praise on the Angels’ emerging favorite. He referred to Fletcher, a Gold Glove candidate at third base last season, as a potential All-Star during a radio interview in October. He said last week that team officials told him Fletcher is one of the Angels’ three best outfielders despite hardly playing there in his career.
“The guys that have seen him are really effusive in their praise of him,” Maddon said. “He’s supposed to be really good, and I believe it.”
Fletcher, a soft-spoken 25-year-old, didn’t give much thought to Maddon’s accolades. He spent the offseason taking ground balls and fly balls at every position on the field to prepare for the duties expected of him.
“My role has changed a little bit every year,” said Fletcher, an Orange County native.
The routine was more intricate than any he had devised during his previous winters. It was necessary: Fletcher made 18 starts and logged 146 2/3 innings in left field last season, mostly during outfielder Justin Upton’s injury absence. But he only played eight innings in the opposite corner.
“Now I feel comfortable everywhere,” Fletcher said.
Peña to the ’pen
Felix Peña, who pitched seven scoreless innings in the Angels’ combined no-hitter in July, is not expected to break camp as a starter. The right-hander is still recovering from the surgery he underwent in August to repair a torn ligament in his right knee, so he is a few weeks behind other pitchers.
Maddon, who managed Peña with the Chicago Cubs, said Peña could be stretched out to start later. For now, he will be considered a reliever.
“He’s really valuable because he can do so many different things,” Maddon said.
Others competing for a bullpen spot are right-handers Jacob Barnes and Mike Mayers. Maddon watched both pitch often in the National League Central Division. Barnes, 29, had a 3.93 earned-run average and struck out 175 from 2016 to 2019 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Mayers, 28, had a 4.70 ERA and struck out 49 over 50 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018, his only season logging more than 19 innings in the major leagues. Both feature 95-mph fastballs in their arsenals.
“I think those two guys could be very impactful this year also, based on what I’ve seen in them in the past,” Maddon said.
Left-hander Dillon Peters has been working on adding a slider to his repertoire. He said the pitch is “just another look for lefties.” … Hansel Robles, who recorded 23 saves last season, will reprise his role as Angels closer, but the team probably will carry on its roster multiple late-inning options who can throw as hard as Robles. Ty Buttrey’s fastball averaged 97 mph last season, and Keynan Middleton, who spent most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, flashed the same velocity during his debut season in 2017.