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OC Register: With first base a question mark for 2019, Angels giving Jose Fernandez a long look


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ANAHEIM – Jose Fernandez’s name was not on the lineup card for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Mariners, a rare sight in these parts. The 30-year-old rookie had started eight consecutive games, all at first base. Jefry Marte, a right-handed hitter, took his place against a left-handed starter, Marco Gonzales.

Fernandez is one of 15 Angels to make their major league debuts in 2018, a franchise record. After three back-and-forth trips on the Salt Lake shuttle, he began play Sunday with an encouraging .738 on-base plus slugging percentage since Sept. 1.

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Is a sample size of 93 plate appearances large enough to say that Fernandez has proven himself as an everyday major league player?

“To say he’s shown enough, I don’t know if he’s had enough of a look to say that he’s shown anything like that,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.

If anything, Scioscia’s hesitancy bodes well for the final two weeks of Fernandez’s season. The Angels have no reason not to give him a longer look at first base. The position will remain a question mark so long as Albert Pujols remains under contract. At 38 years old, Pujols can no longer play a full season in the field because of his health.

Pujols will enter his age-39 season having undergone procedures on his knee and elbow after making 70 starts at first base in 2018. The Angels could use a left-handed hitting complement to the right-handed veteran. During his eight consecutive starts, Fernandez reached base in all but one game and hit the first two home runs of his career.

“His bat-to-ball skills are terrific,” Scioscia said of Fernandez. “He can square it up, uses all fields. I think everyone loves the way he swings the bat, loves his approach at the plate.”

FLETCHER HURT

Rookie infielder David Fletcher is facing the opposite fate after straining his left hamstring in the first inning Sunday. Fletcher has 307 plate appearances this season, plenty of opportunities for the team to evaluate the 24-year-old rookie. Since the Angels are not playing for a postseason berth, Fletcher faces little pressure to rush back.

Fletcher has a .275 batting average with one home run, 18 doubles and two triples in 80 games this season. The Orange County native has seen time at four positions and contributed 1.8 Wins Above Replacement according to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

In his only at-bat of the game, Fletcher poked a 2-and-2 cut fastball down down a deserted first-base line. He slowed abruptly just before reaching first base, favoring his injured leg, and jogged leisurely to second base with plenty of time to spare. After visiting with a trainer Fletcher walked off the field on his own power.

Kaleb Cowart replaced Fletcher as a pinch runner and took his place at second base in the second inning.

FOR STARTERS

After Monday’s off-day, Felix Peña will start the opener of a three-game series against the Oakland A’s on Tuesday. The A’s are expected to counter with an “opener,” a relief pitcher who is not expected to complete multiple innings. Right-hander Liam Hendriks has been used in this role most often, and he has pitched only one inning over the past four days.

The Angels haven’t formally announced who will oppose left-hander Brett Anderson on Wednesday, but it appears Tyler Skaggs will get the start. The left-hander threw a bullpen Sunday. He hasn’t pitched since Aug. 11 because of a groin strain.

In the series finale Thursday, Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker will oppose A’s right-hander Edwin Jackson.

ALSO

Hailey Dawson, 8, threw the ceremonial first pitch to complete her tour across all 30 MLB parks. Dawson was born without three fingers on her right hand and uses a 3D-printed hand to throw the ball. … Shohei Ohtani still has not announced whether he has accepted a doctor’s recommendation of Tommy John surgery on his injured right elbow. Asked whether becoming a closer was an option, Scioscia said that “should be tough to do” if Ohtani continues his routine as a hitter. “Once he makes a decision, he should be able to get back into the rotation and be the dynamic starter he can be,” Scioscia said.

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