Andrelton Simmons, the Angels’ acrobatic shortstop, is getting closer to returning from the injured list. Simmons’ return should be good news, but it does present manager Joe Maddon with several lineup quandaries.
Leadoff man and sparkplug David Fletcher has been playing outstanding defense at shortstop in Simmons’ absence with an ankle injury, and Maddon needs Fletcher’s bat on top of the lineup as a catalyst.
Maddon is a huge fan of Fletcher.
“Fletch plays,” Maddon said, simple as that. “He’s just got to play.”
Getting closer to having his full team available for the first time all season, Maddon is going to have to be creative in distributing playing time.
Maddon said about Fletcher: “We’ve got to figure out something. When you’ve got a guy that’s good on the dirt, for me, you try to do whatever you can to keep them on the dirt. So we’re going to have things to think about. … How do we maneuver these guys, where do we play them?”
Simmons has been taking at-bats at the team’s alternate facility in Long Beach and Maddon declared Simmons’ return as “closer,” even speculating that the shortstop could return to the lineup as early as this weekend’s series at home against the Dodgers.
“He’s running well, so he’s getting a lot closer, a lot more quickly,” Maddon said, “but I haven’t had any final conclusions from the training staff yet.
Simmons himself said the ankle doesn’t bother him at all except for when he is making cutting moves, such as he would while running the bases or when playing defense in the field.
“I can tell you it’s feeling better every day,” Simmons said via a Zoom conference. “It gets tired every once in a while like after really working it, but I’m making progress.”
Fletcher will man shortstop until Simmons in back, but after that Maddon expects to move the versatile Fletcher around he diamond as an everyday player.
Fletcher is an outstanding defensive second baseman and third baseman and is also a competent corner outfielder. He could get the majority of starts at second base, while Tommy La Stella, a left-handed hitter, could move to first base to form a platoon with the 40-year-old Albert Pujols.
Upton still stranded on the bench: Left fielder Justin Upton, a notoriously streaky hitter, is hitting just .113/.200/.226 with two homers. Maddon would like to get Upton into the lineup, but the question is when and where Upton is ready.
“The thing about Justin is his work ethic is spectacular and he’s moving well. Watch him run to first base, watch him move in the outfield. So that tells me that everything is still in pretty good order.
“This guy has a history of getting scalding hot, and I believe that’s going to happen again. … let’s let him work through some moments and try to pick the right spots.”
For now, Upton, a 14-year veteran who is still only 32 years old and hit his 300th career home run earlier this season, is relegated to splitting time with Brian Goodwin in left field and rookie Jo Adell in right.