by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
When manager Joe Maddon leans back in his chair and examines the work of his six starting pitchers so far this spring, he smiles the smile of confident man who told-you-so.
Four of the starters we knew about, except for how Shohei Ohtani would look. The Angels knew plenty about Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney.
They didn’t know about the two newcomers they took chances on — Alex Cobb, who was acquired from the Orioles in a trade for prospect Jahmai Jones, and Jose Quintana, the former Chicago White Sox and Cubs ace who came on board as a free agent in January.
Guess what? All six have all been fine. In fact, they’ve been better than expected.
Quintana continued that string Wednesday, who finally gave up just his first earned run of the spring in his fifth start on a home run by Hunter Dozier as the Angels beat the visiting Kansas City Royals 4-2 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“It feels great,” Quintana said. “I threw more pitches than last time. I feel healthy and like myself. I feel really good and I’m excited for this season.
“I want to show my stuff this season.”
The rejuvenated southpaw dealt a solid 4.2 innings over 87 pitches and lowered his spring ERA to a microscopic 0.64. Quintana has struck out 15 batters in his 14 innings of Cactus League work.
The ‘Brief Breakdown’:
Tenacious D: Andrelton Who?
To those lamenting the departure of wizardly shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Minnesota Twins (we do too), never fear — Jose Iglesias is here.
Iglesias is rated by some metrics as the second-best defensive shortstop in MLB and he’s not waiting until the regular season to show off his web gems.
For the third time this spring, Iglesias pulled off a dazzling showstopper of a defensive highlight, robbing Kansas City’s Cam Gallagher with a magnificent tumbling play and a throw from the seat of his pants.
Let’s look at this twice, courtesy of Locked on Angels podcast host Brent Maguire:
Another look at the play from José Iglesias. I don’t think there are many MLB players capable of pulling this off. pic.twitter.com/fXcdZuCAJq
— Brent Maguire (@bmags94) March 24, 2021
Wow. That Iglesias gem was definitely not a routine 6-3.
“How about that?” a bemused Maddon said afterward. “After the play I wrote down: ‘What’s more inspiring? A grand slam or a play like that?’ That’s one of those impossible things. I don’t know how he threw it. I’d have to watch that one in slow-motion because it was really incredible.”
Batting: At this point, it looks like the only thing that can stop Justin Upton mashing in spring training is the end of spring training itself — but the Angels want Upton’s mashing to carry on into the regular season.
Upton provided the game-winner in the sixth by absolutely powdering a three-run homer that whistled well beyond the grassy berm behind the left-field fence into the dozy fans.
He also ripped a double and barely missed another homer when he hit a deep drive that was just inches foul down the left-field line.
Upton now shares the Angels’ spring lead in homers with Ohtani with four each.
Asked about Upton’s red-hot spring, Maddon offered: “Pretty outstanding, everything about it. (Justin’s) body is alive. He’s moving well on defense, moving well on the bases, and the swing is spectacular.”
Mike Trout, whose bat has been quiet, had a pair of hits with a gapper double and a crisp single to raise his average to a more Mike Trout-like .290.
There hasn’t been much to write about de facto starting right fielder Dexter Fowler this spring, but the veteran switch-hitter delivered an opposite field ground-rule double to left-center field, batting from the left side. That raised Fowler’s spring average to .194.
Pitching: 6-foot-10 righty Aaron Slegers, who has been battling a balky back lately, threw a scoreless inning. It was Slegers’ first appearance in a spring game since March 4 and he’s yet to be scored upon this spring. …
Righty Mike Mayers, a possible set-up candidate, also tossed a scoreless inning.
Talking points: — An MLB arbiter Wednesday granted a fourth option year to Angels pitchers Jaime Barria after a dispute over MLB option rules. The decision allows the Angels some wiggle room as they make their final roster decisions.
Since Barria was only on the Angels’ roster for 29 days of the truncated 2020 60-game season, he now has one minor league option remaining.
The Angels may not use Barria’s option immediately. The club would like to stretch Barria out as a “seventh starter” in Salt Lake in case of an injury, but the Panamanian may be needed on the Opening Day roster as a long reliever because of the injury to Felix Pena.
— The Angels have reportedly signed AJ Ramos, a former All-Star closer for the Miami Marlins, who will be assigned to the team’s alternate site. The right-hander Ramos pitched in only three games for the Colorado Rockies in 2020 and missed all of 2019 recovering from a torn labrum.
But from 2015-17 Ramos was a lights-out closer in Miami, where he had a 2.78 ERA and racked up 92 saves. If he’s healthy, Ramos could be a sound addition to the Angels bullpen.
On Thursday: The Angels roll over to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring home of the Colorado Rockies. Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy with his 0.77 ERA will start for the Angels. Austin Gomber (0-1, 1.59 ERA), the centerpiece for the Rockies in the Nolan Arenado trade with the Cardinals, will start for Colorado.