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OC Register: Angels’ Alex Claudio uses deception to overcome lack of velocity

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TEMPE, Ariz. — In an era when a pitcher’s stuff tends to be evaluated by his velocity, Alex Claudio can be easily overlooked.

The Angels’ reliever throws his fastball about 86 mph, which is one of the slowest in the majors. The average exit velocity he allowed last year, though, was 81.7 mph, also one of the lowest in the majors.

For the past four seasons, he’s been in the top 10% of pitchers in the majors at preventing “barrels,” which are balls struck at the optimum velocity and trajectory to do damage.

How has he done that?

“I believe it’s my location,” the Puerto Rican left-hander said through an interpreter. “Keeping the ball down in the zone. Mixing up my pitches. I really don’t think about contact. I think about going out there and throwing strikes.”

He does so with a funky side-arm delivery that certainly is unfamiliar for hitters. That deception is how Claudio manages to outperform the peripherals, which often associate a pitcher’s success with his strikeouts. Claudio has struck out just 6.3 hitters per nine innings over his career.

“When something’s not identifiable through math, nobody understands it, then you get that kind of label put on you like it’s kind of lucky,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “How about deception? How do you measure deception?”

Maddon saw plenty of Claudio when he pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers’ against Maddon’s Chicago Cubs in 2019.

“There’s not one left-handed hitter in baseball that says ‘I hope Claudio gets in the game,’” Maddon said. “And even righties don’t like it because it can throw you into a funk. It’s almost like a knuckleball.”

Claudio, 29, established himself with the Texas Rangers, posting a 2.66 ERA over 162 1/3 innings through his first four seasons. He’s struggled a bit more in the past three years, with a 4.28 ERA. The soft contact has still been there, though, so perhaps a move from hitter-friendly Milwaukee to Angel Stadium will help.

Ironically, Claudio’s overall numbers have declined as he’s improved against right-handed hitters. Claudio held righties to a .738 OPS last year, the second-best mark of his career. Lefties had a .621 OPS against him last year, and they’ve managed just a .556 mark in his career.

The ability to get righties and lefties is more important now than ever because the three-batter rule, which will be in its second year and makes it more difficult for managers to isolate left-handed pitchers against left-handed batters.

The Angels saw a durable, effective reliever when they signed Claudio to a one-year, $1.13 million deal over the winter. They haven’t seen much of him this spring after a hip infection pushed him back at the start of camp. Claudio appeared in his first Cactus League game Saturday and was scheduled for his second Tuesday. He said he will be ready for Opening Day.


Felix Peña, who came out of Monday’s game with hamstring tightness, was set to undergo an MRI exam on Tuesday.

Although the Angels weren’t expecting to release results until Tuesday, Maddon said head athletic trainer Adam Nevala was optimistic about the reliever before the MRI.

“Adam was kind of upbeat about the severity, but you never know until you go through all the tests,” Maddon said.

Two other relievers who had been down with back spasms – Aaron Slegers and Dillon Peters – were scheduled to pitch in a B game Tuesday.

Luke Bard, who had a hip issue, has been throwing and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session later this week.

Justin Upton returned to the lineup Tuesday after being scratched from Monday’s lineup because of what the Angels called a non-COVID-related illness.


Maddon has launched “Read 15,” a program designed to encourage people of all ages to read for 15 minutes a day. The program includes special bookmarks made from the same leather that Rawlings uses to make the balls used in Major League Baseball.

“There’s nothing more educational than sitting down with a good book and getting away from all this electronic noise,” Maddon said. “That is not old school. That’s not me being 67. That’s none of that. It’s just something that I think creates a more complete person.”


The Angels added right-hander Junior Guerra to the 40-man roster, all but ensuring that the veteran will break camp with the team. Guerra had been considered one of of the favorites to win a bullpen spot since the Angels signed him to a minor-league deal. The Angels had a vacant 40-man roster spot. …

The Angels optioned Brandon Marsh, which is a paperwork move because Marsh was not likely to make the team this spring. Marsh has been limited to DH duty in Cactus League games because of a shoulder issue. He’s expected to get his first action in the outfield over the weekend.

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