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OC Register: Angels’ David Fletcher has taken quickly to third base

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ANAHEIM – Brad Ausmus was playing first base and David Fletcher was playing third Saturday afternoon, the only two men on the infield at T-Mobile Park. The Angels’ erstwhile utilityman was testing out his range and his arm at the hot corner. The Angels’ manager was getting a first-hand look at his somewhat-new everyday third baseman. A game against the Mariners was a couple hours away.

When he was slotted into a utility role out of spring training, Fletcher bounced around the field like a plinko chip. Since June 7, he’s made 31 of his 36 starts at third base, committing only two errors. Not bad for someone who had never played the position before last season.

More sophisticated metrics are even more bullish on Fletcher’s defense at third.

The SABR defensive index (SDI), which accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Gold Glove Award vote, ranks Fletcher behind only Matt Chapman, Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman in the American League.

Ultimate Zone Rating ranks Fletcher behind only Gonzalez, and ahead of Chapman and Bregman, on a rate basis. Defensive Runs Saved, a cumulative stat, ranks Fletcher behind Chapman, Bregman and Detroit’s Jeimer Candelario. Each of them has played at least 500 innings at the position; Fletcher has yet to play 400.

Chapman won the Gold Glove Award in 2018, his first full major league season with the A’s. Does Fletcher’s defense deserve to be mentioned in the same category as Chapman’s?

“Let’s get him some more reps (at third base) before we throw him in that category,” Ausmus said, “but we’re obviously comfortable putting him there.”

None of this was by design. A season-ending shoulder injury to Zack Cozart opened one spot on the Angels’ infield. Tommy La Stella had bounced between second and third, until he landed on the injured list with a fractured tibia earlier this month. Rookie Luis Rengifo has filled in capably at second base. Third base defaulted to Fletcher, who exclusively played shortstop in college at Loyola Marymount. He split his minor-league innings between shortstop and second base.

Fletcher said Triple-A coach Ray Olmedo helped him break into the position last year at Salt Lake. He and Cozart have traded notes, too.

“It’s definitely not easy,” Fletcher said of the position. “You get some tough balls hit to you over there. I just try to make every play I can.”

The Angels shift less than any other team. That means Fletcher is usually not alone on the left side of the infield. A four-time Gold Glove winner, Andrelton Simmons, is usually close enough to absorb some balls hit to Fletcher’s left.

Perhaps because of Simmons’ range, perhaps because they face an inordinate share of left-handed hitters, Angels third basemen have had fewer chances in the field than any AL club. These factors ought to work in Fletcher’s favor – at least in theory.

“Sometimes the balls from the lefties are the toughest ones,” he said. “Reading it off the bat, you don’t get to see the barrel coming around it as much. Sometimes those are the toughest to judge.”

“That first split second,” Fletcher added, “is huge.”

Third base is more of a reactionary position than either second base or shortstop. With little time to hone them, Fletcher’s instincts at third base have been equal to the task.

“He’s probably an above average defender just about anywhere you put him,” Ausmus said.


Two days after Matt Harvey was designated for assignment, the Angels placed the pitcher on unconditional release waivers. … Jared Walsh was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for pitcher Dillon Peters, who started Sunday’s game against the Mariners. … JC Ramirez was scheduled to make a rehabilitation appearance with advanced Class-A Inland Empire.


The Angels have an off-day Monday and return to action Tuesday against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

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