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OC Register: Angels rookie Zach Neto is discovering his patient side


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ANAHEIM ― When the Angels moved Zach Neto into the leadoff slot on April 29, the rookie shortstop didn’t have a wealth of experience to draw upon. Not as a professional before last month; he was only drafted in June 2022. Not in college or even in high school, Neto said, where he always batted in the middle of the order.

When you’re 22, that’s most of your baseball life. Nonetheless, Neto quickly adapted to the leadoff role in a way that has endeared him to manager Phil Nevin.

Twice in the Angels’ first plate appearance of a game, Neto has swung at the first pitch and put the ball in play. In the other four games he’s led off, Neto has worked the count for an average of six pitches, twice reaching base via a walk.

“My job is to see as many pitches as I can,” he said. “If I’m not on base, just see as many pitches, be that scout. If I come in the dugout, I tell everybody ‘this is how his pitches are moving,’ whether it was hard, fast, slow ― things like that. That’s pretty much a scouting report at-bat, but I’m still trying to do damage, put the ball in play and get on base in front of other guys.”

Neto is not patient by nature. At 3.77 pitches per plate appearance overall, he is on the more aggressive side of the big league spectrum. He’s effectively flipping the switch on his patience, once a night, then flipping it off for the rest of the game.

“If I can see seven, eight pitches in an at-bat, that’s seven or eight pitches that pitcher might not have later,” Neto said. “It’s something new for me, but I’m up for the task. I like hitting in the leadoff spot because I get to set the tone early. If I do hit one out of the park or get it started with a base hit, it gets it going for the next guy.”

The hits haven’t been falling as much. Neto is hitting .246 overall. His .333 on-base percentage has been boosted by seven hit by pitches compared to the two leadoff walks ― his only two walks since his debut.

Taylor Ward entered Saturday’s game against the Texas Rangers hitting .300 since Neto bumped him from the top of the lineup. Nevin hinted that the two could switch again at some point this season.

“Things can change,” Nevin said. “If you had asked me about (Ward) in the first week of the season, I would’ve said the same. It’s constantly changing. Right now I think that’s the best look for us. I love what he’s done. The at-bats are consistent.”

MAKING IT OFFICIAL

Carlos Estévez’s scoreless 10th-inning appearance Friday netted the right-hander his first win of the season when the Angels scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the inning.

It was the fourth time Estévez has been used in a spot typically reserved for a closer since the Angels’ five-game winning streak began. With left-hander Jose Quijada done for the season, manager Phil Nevin conceded that Estévez is the Angels’ primary closer now.

“It’s safe to say Esty is slipping into that closer’s role most nights,” Nevin said, “but still if it’s a more high leverage, in a different spot in the eighth inning, I’d go with him before I went to someone else.”

Estévez, who signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract last December, is 7 for 7 in save chances this season. He was 2 for 6 in save opportunities last season with Colorado.

Nevin specifically mentioned left-hander Matt Moore and right-hander Chris Devenski as the other relievers who will see elevated roles following the season-ending elbow injuries to Quijada and right-hander Austin Warren.

ALSO

Third baseman Anthony Rendon was given a day off because his thumb “was a little sore” one day after a collision in Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers. He is day-to-day. … Gio Urshela started at third base in his place. … Hunter Renfroe got his second day off this season, and his first since April 25, against Texas Rangers right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. … Switch hitter Luis Rengifo started in right field instead.

UP NEXT

Angels (LHP Jose Suarez, 1-1, 7.89 ERA) vs. Texas Rangers (LHP Martín Pérez, 4-1, 2.41 ERA), Sunday, 1 p.m., Bally Sports West

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