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Ian Kinsler has been putting on show for the Angels

Given his performance this spring, Ian Kinsler sort of sneaking up on the Angels in the offseason now seems entirely appropriate.

The savvy of a veteran entering his 13th season has been impossible to miss, Kinsler, as one example, continually finding ways to advance an extra base in a manner that could almost be described as devious.

His timing and execution have been nearly impeccable. He genuinely has swiped real estate on plays that only officially didn’t count as stolen bases.

“There’s no doubt when you take that extra base or you can create something on the basepaths, it’s the icing on the cake,” manager Mike Scioscia said.

The most impressive play for Kinsler came against Texas on March 11, when he scored from first base on a Mike Trout groundout to shortstop. Think about how unlikely that sounds for a second.

Kinsler broke when the ball was struck and, as Jurickson Profar was fielding it and throwing to first, hesitated but never stopped running around second.

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His aggressiveness led to first baseman Joey Gallo throwing wildly across the infield, the error allowing Kinsler to score just ahead of the throw home.

Scioscia said such plays “definitely can give you a lift,” Kinsler providing the Angels with some newfound fire at the top of their batting order.

Entering Sunday, and in another game against the Rangers, one of his former teams, Kinsler was hitting .321 with a .472 on-base percentage. No Angel had scored more runs than his nine.

“Batter’s box offense is still the lion’s share of what you’re going to create,” Scioscia said. “But what you do on the bases definitely complements that.”

Kinsler, 35, joined the Angels in December in a trade with Detroit that came together so unexpectedly that it forced general manager Billy Eppler to ask Zack Cozart to switch from second base to third base.

This, in a story that’s already a part of 2018 Angels lore, happened only a day after Eppler had asked Cozart to switch from shortstop, where he had played pretty much his entire career, to second base.

The Angels and Tigers had first discussed a Kinsler trade around the July 31 deadline. Those talks continued on and off after the season.

On the morning of the news conference at which Shohei Ohtani was introduced, Eppler reached out to Detroit again. The response he received was less than enthusiastic.

“My temperature on it felt fairly cold,” Eppler said. “It didn’t feel like there was anything really there.”

At the subsequent winter meetings, as nothing changed on the Kinsler front, Eppler focused on pursuing Cozart, who was a free agent and eventually agreed to become an Angel.

Before Cozart could fly to Southern California for his physical, the Tigers contacted Eppler and the once-dead Kinsler deal not only was alive again but completed a short time later.

Just that quickly, the Angels had someone with practical experience to place at the top of their lineup.

Last season, the Angels didn’t have a true leadoff hitter, only eight guys who at one point or another batted first. Four of those eight are no longer with the club.

From that batting position, they ranked 21st in on-base percentage, 22nd in on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 22nd in runs in 2017.

Kinsler’s spring training, at least, suggests those numbers should change for the better.

“I think he’s doing what we anticipated,” Scioscia said. “You’re seeing him set the table. You’re seeing him with big hits. …He’s more than just a guy who is going to hit first for us. He’s an important part of our lineup.”

Ohtani goes hitless

Trying to gain some traction in his first big league spring training, Ohtani had four tough, and hitless, plate appearances against Texas. He faced a left-hander each time.

He went 0 for 2 against starter Martin Perez, and 0 for 1 against each Alex Claudio and minor leaguer Brady Feigl. For his career, Claudio has limited left-handers to 36 hits in 209 at-bats, a .172 average.

Ohtani struck out twice, lined out and reached on an error. He is two for 24 for the spring with nine strikeouts.

“I’m trying to get my swing right,” he said through an interpreter. “I’ve been fouling off a lot of pitches I shouldn’t be fouling off.”

Scioscia said Ohtani likely will be the designated hitter again Monday when the Angels play Seattle at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

“I feel like I can’t let the pitchers dictate my timing,” he said. “I have to find my own rhythm.”

Ohtani’s next pitching appearance will come Saturday, possibly in a minor league game.

The Angels’ final game in Arizona also is Saturday, at home, against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Richards is sharp

Garrett Richards pitched six scoreless innings in a triple-A game against the Colorado Rockies. He struck out six batters and walked none, and threw 88 pitches, 58 for strikes. In the same game, Albert Pujols went four for seven with a home run.

By having them play in a minor league game, the Angels could more directly control Richards’ pitch count and get Pujols more at-bats than he would have received against Texas.

jmiller2929@yahoo.com


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