By Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
Oh yes — the dreaded spring training injuries have popped up for the Angelsy. These untimely injuries happen every spring, derailing plans and forcing Plans B and C into action.
But this time, Angels manager Joe Maddon has depth to counter this sudden injury problem — and good depth, talented depth, tantalizing depth.
Maddon can choose to elevate his top two pitching prospects — left-hander Reid Detmers and righty Chris Rodriguez — and have them pitch out of the bullpen to start the season until more seasoned arms return from injury issues.
In this case, two Angels pitchers whom Maddon had penciled in to begin the season in the bullpen have pulled up lame.
Right-hander Felix Pena, who has proven to be able to pitch in a variety of roles over the last two seasons, has a Grade One hamstring strain which will keep him out of action for two to four weeks — threatening Pena’s viability for Opening Day.
And 6-foot-10 Aaron Slegers has had a flare-up of his balky back. He’s battling back spasms and his readiness for Opening Day is also unknown.
But Maddon isn’t panicking. He mentioned Detmers and Rodriguez by name in his pre-game Zoom conference on Friday — and while may be unlikely that Maddon would rush one or both of this two best pitching prospects into the fray so fast … he just might.
“There’s some good bedrock there that we have to fill in around,” Maddon said.
With Pena’s injury, it’s possible the Angels could look outside the organization and perhaps pull a trade to beef up the bullpen.
Or, they could be bold and call on No. 2 prospect Detmers, or the electric-armed Rodriguez, the No. 4 prospect who flashed 99mph while pitching against the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
Said Maddon: “Sometimes you have a long-term vision for somebody as a starter, but out of necessity other things occur. Everybody’s always worried about guys getting hurt.
“But I think if you don’t worry about it, a guy could blossom from (something like that).”
Maddon mentioned ace starters Chuck Finley, Chris Sale and Brandon Woodruff as pitchers who worked out of the bullpen before reverting back into starting pitchers.
Due to back problems, Rodriguez has only thrown 9.1 innings of professional baseball since 2017 — but he’s healthy now, throwing well, and is a tempting option for Maddon because of how well his arm would play out of the bullpen.
“You’d have to be prepared to be frugal between his appearances and make sure he had time to recover,” Maddon said of Rodriguez. “You can’t get greedy with a guy like that.”
Maddon was still monitoring whether, with two weeks to go, Slegers might be healthy enough to make Opening Day. “I don’t think we’re there yet — today’s always the big day,” he said. “And (Slegers) is responding pretty well. So let’s give it a brief period of time forward from here, and see where he’s at.”