Angels' David Freese looks better at third base

David Freese doesn't want to taken out for defensive reasons in late innings

Angels third baseman David Freese charged a slow roller to his left and made a barehand grab and off-balance throw to first to end the fourth inning Wednesday.

The play won't draw comparisons to Brooks Robinson or make Freese a Gold Glove candidate, but if it keeps him on the field in the late innings of games in which the Angels hold narrow leads, Freese will be happy.

"We've talked about it," said first base coach Alfredo Griffin, who oversees Angels infielders. "He said, 'There's no way I'm coming out of the game this year.' I told him I want to see him in there with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth."

Freese was usually replaced by slick-fielding John McDonald in those situations last season, and he couldn't argue with Manager Mike Scioscia's strategy.

According to Fangraphs, Freese ranked 19th out of 24 qualifying major league third basemen with minus-9 defensive runs saved, a statistic that captures a player's total defensive value.

He ranked 13th with an 0.6 ultimate zone rating, which estimates each fielder's defensive contribution compared to an average fielder at his position. A player with a UZR of zero would be considered average.

"The last few years have been not what I wanted, but I'm OK with whatever's best for the team," said Freese, who was also pulled for defensive purposes in St. Louis. "When I'm on the field, I'm going to take pride in helping us win. My goal is to remain in the game in the ninth inning."

Freese's chances have improved, but not just because McDonald retired this winter. Freese is leaner this spring, having "redistributed" the 220 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame by adding muscle and losing fat.

He's confident that will help "with range, quickness and durability," he said. "I feel lighter."

Freese hasn't been tested much in Cactus League play, but Griffin sees a difference in drills.

"He's moving better," Griffin said. "His range and quickness should increase. He looks good."

Minor setback

C.J. Wilson was scratched from Thursday's start against the Chicago Cubs because of a left-knee injury that is not believed to be serious. Left-hander Sean Newcomb, a first-round pick in 2014, will start in Wilson's place.

Wilson, who went 13-10 with a 4.51 earned-run average in 2014, tweaked the knee during a fielding drill Monday.

"He should be fine, but we want to give him a couple of days to get over it," Scioscia said. "He should be off a mound in a couple of days."

Scioscia said the setback should not affect Wilson's ability to be ready by opening day.

Pitching coach Mike Butcher "has a flexible program for where these guys need to be," Scioscia said. "They start early enough to where you can absorb a little bump like this. We can even push him back a full five days, and he should be OK."

Laugh track

Today's Angels-Cubs game will be the second stop on Will Ferrell's whirlwind tour of the Cactus League, in which the comedian will travel by helicopter to five games and play every position for 10 teams as part of an HBO special that will air later this year.

"We're all fans, for sure, he's a funny guy," Scioscia said of Ferrell, who will conclude his tour with an inning at Thursday night's Dodgers-San Diego Padres game. "It remains to be seen how it's going to work out, but we'll do our part."

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times