Andrelton Simmons tried.
He told his manager his body felt fine, that he didn’t need to rest after appearing in the Angels’ starting lineup for 30 consecutive games. But there was no argument strong enough to sway Brad Ausmus’ decision Saturday at Camden Yards. Simmons, the Gold Glove-winning shortstop, was scheduled to receive the beginning of the middle game of a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles off since earlier in the week, and Ausmus stood by his decision.
Perhaps on another day, the rest would have been welcomed. But several hours before the Angels defeated the Orioles 7-2 and improved to 19-20, Simmons admitted the timing could have been better. He had four hits in Friday’s win here. The performance improved his on-base-plus-slugging percentage in May more than 100 points to .817.
Simmons has been riding a hot streak. Snuffing out a flame like that isn’t typically a best practice.
“Tried to stay in there,” Simmons said, “but I can only do so much.”
No matter. Simmons entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning and led off the subsequent inning with a single, upping his average to a team-high .312. He stole second base and scored the Angels’ final run on Shohei Othani’s single.
That is the type of hitter Simmons, 29, has always strived to be — consistent and impactful, the kind he didn’t really morph into until the last year.
“I’m just working my tail off trying to get better every day,” he said. “I’m learning something every day. I show up one day and I know I can’t just make the hits appear. But I do feel good at the plate. I’m picking up information from my other teammates, from the coaches, trying to get better. Right now I’m seeing the ball well and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
A defensive star first, Simmons never batted above .270 over a full season with his original team, the Atlanta Braves.
He has blossomed with the Angels. His on-base percentage since the start of 2016 is .331. He has slugged .408 and tallied 375 hits since 2017. The only shortstops with more hits in that time are Manny Machado (387) and Francisco Lindor (379).
Since changing his offseason routine to incorporate a slightly modified diet and exercise plan, he has added bulk to his 6-foot-2 frame without compromising his agility and flexibility in the field. Simmons’ efforts in getting stronger have paid dividends elsewhere this season.The only active Angels players hitting baseballs better than Simmons’ average exit velocity of 90 mph are Mike Trout (90.5 mph) and Kole Calhoun (90.1 mph), according to MLB’s Statcast system.
Simmons said Saturday he wished he could sting balls even harder, hit more than just three home runs in the first month and a half of a season. He would feel closer to a finished offensive product then.
But the strides he has made in a short period of time are encouraging.
“I do feel like I’m getting stronger but at the same time I’ve got room to improve,” Simmons said. “I’m going to keep working and hopefully keep getting better.”
Ohtani feels the power coming
Extra-bases hits have eluded Ohtani, the 2018 American League rookie of the year, since his return from the injured list Tuesday. But Ohtani is still making enough solid contact to portend better things in the future.
On Saturday, he lined the first pitch he saw from Orioles starter Dylan Bundy 360 feet to center field for an out. Two at-bats later, he scorched a single into left field. He put five balls in play, and all but two — a third-inning flyout and a ninth-inning single that scored Simmons — jumped off the bat with a velocity of at least 105 mph.
“Every at-bat today, I hit the ball in the air, so I think [a home run] should be coming soon,” Ohtani, who has four hits in his first 21 at-bats, said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Heading in the right direction.”
Said Ausmus: “There’s no concern. It’s just a matter of him getting more comfortable and seeing more pitches.”