TEMPE, Ariz. — The Angels’ six-man rotation may be more of a 5.5-man rotation, as it turns out.
On the day pitchers and catchers reported for spring training physicals, manager Phil Nevin said Tuesday that the Angels’ current plan is “kind of a swing deal” for the No. 6 spot in the rotation, at least at the start of the season.
It means the Angels’ top five starters will normally pitch on five days’ rest, meaning they would need a sixth starter only if there are no days off on the schedule during a particular swing through the rotation.
Nevin had said at the Winter Meetings that the Angels would have Ohtani pitch on five days’ rest as often as possible, but now he’s expanded that to include starters Tyler Anderson, Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers and José Suarez.
“We like what we have in the starting rotation, where those guys emerged from last year and what they’re potentially getting into,” Nevin said. “We like where we’re at. They’re really good.”
Angels starters ranked sixth in the majors in ERA in 2022, and they’ve now added Anderson, an All-Star with the Dodgers last season. Using the swing strategy for the sixth spot would increase the appearances for each of the other five starters.
Last season, the Angels typically used six starters each time through the rotation, even if there was also an off day. That meant Angels starters pitched on six or more days’ rest 108 times, which was twice as many as the next closest team.
Turning the sixth spot into a hybrid role could give an advantage to right-hander Jaime Barria in the competition for that spot, as he’s been successful at times in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever.
Barria had a 2.61 ERA in 2022, pitching out of the bullpen in 34 of his 35 games. He had a 3.41 ERA as a starter in 2018, although more recently he’s struggled as a starter.
The other leading candidates for that role are left-hander Tucker Davidson, who is out of options, and right-handers Griffin Canning and Chris Rodriguez. Canning and Rodriguez have missed most of the last season and a half with injuries, but both are now healthy. Still, bouncing between roles might be problematic for a pitcher with health concerns.
The sixth starter competition will be one of the more intriguing battles of the spring, but Nevin said Tuesday that the Angels will also be closely monitoring the catchers.
Max Stassi, Logan O’Hoppe and Matt Thaiss are the three catchers on the 40-man roster, and Nevin said there will be a competition for playing time.
“I’m going to say this for every position, the best guys are going to play,” Nevin said. “We’re not here for charity time or anything like that. We’re in this to win, and our best guys are going to play. … Anyone can emerge and play a little bit more than the other and I couldn’t tell you who that is. I mean that certainly is a little bit of a competition this spring, sure.”
Nevin also said he isn’t starting camp with any preconceived notions about how the time at shortstop will be allocated. David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo are the top candidates, with a handful of other players able to play there occasionally.
“Is it one set guy? I don’t necessarily think shortstop because of the position has to be one set guy,” Nevin said. “We platoon in other spots around the field. To me, there’s no reason why as long as you’re getting production out of the spot, you can’t have different guys play there if it comes to it.”
Nevin said Brandon Drury will “probably” get most of his action at second. Anthony Rendon will start at third as long as he’s healthy, although Nevin conceded he’s “going to be careful early” with Rendon’s playing time. Nevin also said first baseman Jared Walsh will see some time in the outfield.
Gio Urshela is going to bounce around wherever the Angels need him, Nevin said, including some first base when the Angels are facing left-handed pitchers.
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It’s a spring training cliché to talk about which players are in “the best shape” of their lives, but two that Nevin singled out on Tuesday were Fletcher and outfielder Jo Adell. Nevin said Adell has gained about 15 pounds of muscle. “He’s a beast,” Nevin said.