Taylor Featherston has looked overmatched at the plate in his first big league season, the Angels utility infielder hitting .133 with a .185 on-base percentage in a limited role, with 29 of his 75 at-bats ending in strikeouts.
But if there is one phase of the game in which Featherston looks comfortable and confident, it's on the basepaths, where his speed and instincts can be difference-makers, as they were in Wednesday's 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Indians in Angel Stadium.
The Angels trailed, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning and were on the verge of a lethargic loss, the offense producing one run and three hits despite Erick Aybar's pregame slump-busting efforts: The shortstop threw all of the bats on the dugout floor and instructed teammates to pick one up and go to the plate with it.
"He was trying to wake them up," said Kole Calhoun, whose solo homer in the fourth, his 15th of the season, was the extent of the offense until the final inning.
Mike Trout struck out to open the ninth, extending a one-for-20 skid, but Albert Pujols singled to center. David Murphy flied to left for the second out, and Pujols advanced on a wild pitch. Aybar and Conor Gillaspie drew walks off Indians closer Cody Allen to load the bases.
Featherston replaced Gillaspie at first, the 17th time this season he has entered a game as a pinch-runner, and Manager Mike Scioscia let the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron face the right-handed Allen. The reason? Allen has actually fared better against left-handers (.177 average against) than right-handers (.293) this season.
Cron, who walked in his first two at-bats, stroked a two-run single to center to tie the score, 3-3, and Featherston alertly took third on the hit. Third-base coach Gary DiSarcina told Featherston to be on the lookout for Allen's nasty slider, which often bounces in the dirt.
Sure enough, on a 2-and-2 pitch to pinch-hitter David DeJesus, Allen bounced a slider that caromed about 20 feet to the right of catcher Roberto Perez. Featherston pounced on the opening, raced home from third and slid headfirst into the plate to give the struggling Angels their third win in 13 games.
In fact, it was the Angels' first win this season when they'd trailed after eight innings. They lost their previous 44 in that situation.
"You get to third in that situation, especially in a breaking-ball count, you have to anticipate the wild pitch or something kicking away and giving you something to work with," Featherston said. "That's what happened. It's a gamble. You have to trust your instincts and go. If you hesitate a little bit, you're probably out."
In hindsight, how much of a gamble was it?
"Not at all if you get it done, but you have to bet on yourself," Featherston said. "You have to believe in what you see and what your eyes tell you, and you have to run with it. They told me to be aggressive, and I was. That's how you run the bases. Always push the envelope, take any extra base you can."
Though the ball didn't bounce far away from Perez, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia endorsed Featherston's decision. Asked what his immediate thought was when he saw the ball bounce away from the catcher, Scioscia said, "Go!
"You don't have time for a verbal from your third-base coach. You have to trust the instincts of the player. Taylor got a great secondary lead and a good read on the ball. He got a great jump and beat the play.
"When you're not getting it done in the batter's box, you have to do other things, whether it's good baserunning, situational hitting, whatever it is. We got started a little late today, but we got it done."
The Angels are off Thursday. Left-hander Andrew Heaney (5-1, 1.97 earned-run average) will oppose Baltimore right-hander Kevin Gausman (2-2, 3.97) at Angel Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.