The last time Cliff Pennington batted 300 times in a season was four years ago. The Dodgers contacted his agent this off-season asking if he'd be interested in a hybrid role in which he would both hit and pitch.
Now, with Andrelton Simmons probably out until July, the Angels will ask Pennington to become the everyday shortstop on their reeling roster.
Simmons will soon undergo surgery to repair a full tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, the Angels announced Monday. He suffered the injury in the third inning of Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay and immediately exited the game.
After diving to his right to field a grounder hit by Evan Longoria, Simmons rolled onto his thumb and grimaced with pain as he threw the ball late to first. A MRI exam Monday showed a "full thickness tear." He will require at least six weeks to recover from the surgery, and, based on recent precedent, potentially longer.
Maicer Izturis missed the final six weeks of the season with the injury in 2008, and current Angels first-base coach Gary DiSarcina missed seven weeks after surgery in August 1995, but wished he had waited longer to return. As in Simmons' case, the initial diagnosis regarding DiSarcina was a thumb sprain, suffered sliding into second base to break up a double play.
Pennington, a utilityman signed for two years and $3.75 million, figures to take on the majority of shortstop starts in Simmons' absence. Third baseman Yunel Escobar, a former shortstop, is not considered an option.
The only other player on the Angels' 40-man roster who has played the position recently is Rey Navarro. He could be called up from triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday.
The Angels hoped for significant offensive contributions from the 26-year-old Simmons, but he had not hit well since they traded their top two pitching prospects to acquire him from Atlanta in November.
He put the ball into play often — 108 times in 118 plate appearances — but notched only five extra-base hits. His average was .219, his on-base percentage .246, and his slugging percentage .281, all below his career averages.
But his defense has been typically superb, with several highlight-quality plays, and Pennington's offense has not been noticeably better. In 47 plate appearances, he has hit .175, with a .267 on-base mark and .325 slugging. Simmons' career OPS is .658; Pennington's is .656.
Simmons will join the Angels' top two starting pitchers, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, on the disabled list, as well as their closer, Huston Street, another starter, C.J. Wilson, and a member of their left-field platoon, Craig Gentry.
The Angels are 13-18, fourth in the American League West. They were five games behind division-leading Seattle before Monday. Widely considered to be on the fringes of potential contention before this rash of injuries, they will now face a significant uphill climb to remain relevant into the season's second half.
General Manager Billy Eppler said he is confident the roster he has assembled is up to the prodigious task.
"You deal with the adversity as it comes," Eppler said Monday. "That is what I believe mental toughness is. It's being your best in all circumstances and persisting in the face of adversity. This group has been mentally tough. Historically, they've shown that. I expect them to keep fighting because I know they will, I know these guys."