by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
With an off day Friday before the Angels take on the San Diego Padres on Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, most of the Halos regulars had already hung up their spikes by 3pm and hopped into their cars.
They were getting ready to pack up their hotel rooms or rented houses in Tempe and drive back to Southern California to get ready for the Freeway Series and Opening Day.
The Angels will face the Padres in Tempe on Saturday with mostly a skeleton crew, and then the big stadiums and bright lights are coming up … fast!
Angel right-hander Dylan Bundy declared himself ready, but he wasn’t in any hurry to leave after the Halos lost to the Colorado Rockies 6-5 at Salt River Park at Talking Stick in Scottsdale.
After throwing 85 pitches in the game, Bundy gathered up interim pitching coach Matt Wise and went down to the Angels bullpen to stretch out his pitch count to “close to 100 total” to ensure he’s game-ready to make his first appearance as the Halos’ Opening Day starter against the Chicago White Sox on April 1.
“I wanted to get closer to game-like pitch count conditions, where I could go the whole way,” Bundy said, who had his first rough outing of the spring as the Angels lost
The Rockies tagged Bundy for eight hits over 5.2 innings. He struck out seven, but gave up a pair of homers to Chris Owings and a long homer to former Angel CJ Cron.
Bundy had better than average velocity — topping out at 94 mph on his fastball. But the damage came when Bundy tried to overthrow his secondary offerings, the homers came on elevated changeups and curveballs.
He’ll have another extended bullpen session in Anaheim between now and his Opening Day start against the Chicago White Sox on April 1. Bundy’s final Cactus League pitching stats look very much like those of a staff ace: 17.1 innings pitched, 13 hits allowed, 16 strikeouts and only six walks for a 0.87 WHIP and 3.12 ERA.
Said Bundy: “I was pleased I didn’t walk anybody, and I was satisfied with the shape of my pitches.”
With that, Bundy himself hopped in his car, drove back to Tempe, and the onward home for Opening Day honors.
The ‘Brief Breakdown’:
Batting: The Angels had some quality swings as they roughed up left-hander Austin Gomber, who was the Rockies’ prize return in the February trade that sent him and four other minor-leaguers to the St. Louis Cardinals for star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Gomber had barely been touched in Cactus League play but left Diablo Stadium with a swollen 3.78 ERA after the Angels knocked him around
The Angels didn’t wait long, either. Shohei Ohtani, batting in the second spot, teed off on the first pitch he saw from Gomber — a fastball on the outside corner — and used his prodigious opposite-field power to drive it out for a homer over the 345-foot mark in the left-field corner. It was Ohtani’s team-high fifth bomb of the spring.
Angels shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Max Stassi also peppered Gomber with back-to-back homers — their first each this spring — as the Halos muscled up. No. 9 hitter Dexter Fowler nearly made it three in a row when he doubled on a line drive that ticked off the top of the fence.
Jose Rojas, the Anaheim native who is practically guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster after the demotion of Luis Rengifo, got into the game as the first baseman and legged out a triple.
41-year-old Albert Pujols, who has been playing this spring like an eager 20-year-old trying to make his first MLB roster, chugged into second base with an all-effort double that was noteworthy for The Machine’s lack of sprint speed despite the hustle:
Albert Pujols sprint speed: 23.1 feet per second rumbling into second base for a double (hit was a 109.5 mph line drive into the left-field corner)
A crisp 3.9 ft/sec slower than the MLB average sprint speed, 27 ft/sec
— David Adler (@_dadler) March 25, 2021
Pujols is batting .359 this spring is putting the heat on second-year player Jared Walsh for the bulk of the playing time at first base.
Maddon wouldn’t commit and says he believes in Walsh despite his slow spring (.216, one extra-base hit), saying: “Guys ebb and flow all the time. I love his bat speed. I love his hands in his setup. I think he’s a very good first baseman. He’s got a high baseball IQ. So, spring training? I just can’t go to ‘Negative Town’ on anybody, really.”
Former Gold Glover Juan Lagares was already leading the contenders for the Angels’ fourth outfielder, but didn’t hurt his cause when he jumped all over this 82-mph Gomber change for this massive tank to left in the fifth:
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) March 25, 2021
According to Statcast, the homer sailed 452 feet, and was hit 112.4 mph at a 22-degree launch angle.
Pitching: Angels closer Raisel Iglesias got tagged for a homer. Lefty Alex Claudio, Chris Rodriguez and Mike Mayers all took the hill and didn’t allow any runs, and the hard-throwing Rodriguez looked good.
Although he’s never pitched above Single-A, Rodriguez has shown this spring that he can get major-league hitters out, and although he still wouldn’t yet commit, Maddon seemed to hint there’s a good chance of Rodriguez being in the bullpen Opening Day, as we reported yesterday.
“He’s right there in the mix,” the manager said, “and we haven’t finalized things yet, but he’s looking really good.”
Talking points: The Angels’ starting rotation, at least through the opening home-stand of the regular season, appears to be set.
The Angels will open the Freeway Series against the boys in blue on Sunday at the Big A with Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning expected to split the game.
The last two games of the series are at Chavez Ravine, and Ohtani will start for the Angels in the Monday game (and possibly hit, too — “If he’s into it, I would do it,” Maddon said), while Jose Quintana will pitch against the Dodgers on Tuesday.
If things stay according to order, that lines up the Angels’ starters in the opening series against the Chicago White Sox as Bundy on Opening Day, followed by Cobb (Thursday), Heaney (Friday), Canning (Saturday).
Ohtani would then get his first regular season start on April 5 when the Houston Astros visit Angels Stadium.
— On Saturday the Angels will have to decide on a pair of non-roster players, outfielder Jon Jay and right-hander Jesse Chavez. The Angels must put in writing that the players will be added to the 26-man roster or the team must pay each a retention bonus of $100,000 … Chavez has a chance to slip into the bullpen picture by Jay looks like a longshot.
— Random Angels trivia courtesy of Angels PR manager Matt Birch: Ohtani’s five HRs this spring are the most for an Angel player since Pujols hit six in Spring 2016. And courtesty Elias Sports, Ohtani also tied Hideki Matsui (2005) for the highest spring homer total by a Japanese player.
On Saturday: Angels pitcher Alex Cobb (1-0, 2.35 ERA) will pitch the final game of the Angels’ Arizona calendar against the San Diego Padres at Tempe Diablo Stadium against Padres’ left-hander Blake Snell (2-0, 0.00).