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OC Register: Angels’ Zach Neto says he’s happy to accept pain for a free base


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MILWAUKEE — Zach Neto has heard the well-meaning advice, but he’s not taking it.

“My teammates say ‘Get out of the way, get out of the way,’ ” Neto said. “But as long as I’m getting on base for (Mike) Trout and (Shohei) Ohtani, I’m doing my job.”

The Angels rookie shortstop now hits leadoff, ahead of Trout and Ohtani, and he has quickly established in his first couple weeks in the big leagues that he has a knack for raising his on-base percentage the painful way.

Neto has been hit by a pitch seven times already, which is the most times a player has been hit in his first 15 big league games since 1901. Neto didn’t draw a walk until Sunday, but he but he still had a .357 on-base percentage to go with his .265 batting average after his first 15 games.

Neto, who said he got hit a lot in high school and college too, has often heard comparisons to Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who owns the modern major league record with 285 times getting hit by a pitch.

“At this rate, I’m definitely on pace (to break the record),” Neto said with a smile.

Neto said he has always preferred to stand close to the plate, which is probably the main reason why he gets hit so much.

“That’s the way I’ve always been hitting my whole life,” Neto said. “I don’t know what the pitchers think. Maybe they are trying to establish the inner half and they miss their spot trying to be perfect. And the ball ends up hitting me. It’s nothing new.”

Neto’s distinctive leg kick might also be a part of the equation. He said he has already got his foot down by the time the ball hits him, so he doesn’t think the leg kick is preventing him from getting out of the way, but it could be a distraction for the pitcher.

“Even our (batting practice) throwers say it’s kind of intimidating, having my leg kick go across home plate like that,” Neto said. “Maybe that’s a factor. Maybe not.”

Manager Phil Nevin said he’s OK with Neto’s approach because he’s got padding on “his vital parts,” but he also wouldn’t mind his shortstop playing it a little safer.

“It would be alright if he gets out of the way and gets a hit,” Nevin said. “That would be better.”

Neto said he has never been injured when he’s been hit by a pitch. He admitted he got a scare when Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes hit him with a 94.6-mph sinker on Saturday night. Neto got his padded left elbow out of the way, but then ball hit him in the right forearm.

He said his arm initially went numb.

“It got me a little higher on the arm this time,” Neto said on Sunday. “Until I got some feeling back in my arm, my whole arm went numb and I got a little scared, but then I saw where I got hit. It was in the meaty part.”

Neto took a few moments, but then went to first. After the inning, he took the field with a compression sleeve on his right arm to prevent swelling. He said he would continue to wear the sleeve on Sunday.

“I’m kind of used to it,” Neto said. “Here the ball moves way more so it’s kind of harder to get out of the way. But OBP is going up, so that’s a positive out of it.”

WARREN SHUT DOWN

Right-hander Austin Warren underwent an MRI exam on his sore elbow. Nevin didn’t have the official diagnosis but said he’s now certain to miss more than the minimum 15 days for his injured list stint.

“He needs to be shut down for a little bit,” Nevin said. “How long that time period is I don’t know. Right now we’re looking at a few weeks before he can pick up a ball.”

The Angels had hoped Warren could provide some quality work in their bullpen after he began the season with seven scoreless innings at Triple-A. He appeared in two games with the Angels before feeling discomfort in his elbow.

UNBALANCED SCHEDULE

After losing the first two games of the series in Milwaukee, the Angels ensured that they will finish April without winning a series against a team that currently has a winning record.

The series they have won have been against the last-place Oakland A’s (twice), Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. They lost series against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Brewers. The only one of those series that was at home was Toronto.

The Angels were 14-14 heading into the final game of the month on Sunday.

“That doesn’t concern me, no,” Nevin said before Sunday’s game. “We’ve got to play them. We’ve got to play them all. We played those (winning) teams on the road too. So that’s a little bit different story. We’re still trying to find our own identity. I know that it’s coming. It’s coming fast. Sitting here at .500, in the position we’re at, in the kind of a stretch we had, I’m not exactly OK with it, but I know we’re in a good place.”

UP NEXT

Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 2-1, 3.16) vs. Cardinals (LHP Steven Matz, 0-3, 6.23), Tuesday, 4:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, Bally Sports West,  830 AM.

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