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David Fletcher keeps delivering jaw-dropping plays for the Angels

Angels infielder David Fletcher
Angels infielder David Fletcher is often compared to 2002 World Series hero David Eckstein for his versatility and athleticism.
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

Kyle Seager peeled off the first-base line and toward the Seattle Mariners dugout in the sixth inning Tuesday night, stopping to glance at the giant video board above the right-field bleachers in Angel Stadium.

The Seattle slugger’s eyes widened and he grinned as he watched the replay of Angels infielder David Fletcher’s jaw-dropping defensive gem. If a quote bubble appeared over Seager’s head, you could imagine it containing Jack Buck’s famous call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series homer: “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

Fletcher, starting at shortstop in place of the injured Andrelton Simmons, was stationed in shallow right field, the Angels employing an infield shift against the left-handed-hitting cleanup man.

Seager ripped a hard grounder to the right of the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Fletcher. He scattered about 20 feet to make a back-handed stab of the ball, jumped into the air and, with his momentum carrying him toward center field, made an off-balance throw about 100 feet to first base to nail Seager by three steps.

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“That was a pretty darn good play, wasn’t it?” Angels manager Joe Maddon said on a videoconference call after the Angels’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners in their home opener. “The way the ball was hit, how far he had to go and how far he had to throw it, and not only that, it was right on the money. …

“He’s throwing on the run, being chased by a defensive end and a tackle, and he’s still popping it right in there between a linebacker and a safety. It’s unbelievable. It was right in the chest [of first baseman Albert Pujols]. Yeah, it was that good of a play.”

The Angels are growing accustomed to such efforts from the versatile and athletic Fletcher, who is often compared to former Angels shortstop and 2002 World Series hero David Eckstein for his diminutive size, scrappy offensive approach and blue-collar grit ... but is far more gifted defensively than Eckstein.

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Fletcher, 26, replaced injured third baseman Anthony Rendon in the season-opening four-game series at Oakland and made a nice play with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning Sunday, leaping to field Vimael Machin’s chopper to his left and seamlessly firing to second base to start a double play.

Angels third baseman David Fletcher
(Kent Nishimura and Allison Hong / Los Angeles Times)

Fletcher, who will be the team’s regular shortstop while Simmons recovers from a left-ankle sprain that sent him to the 10-day injured list, also started two double plays Tuesday night. He has played plenty of second base during his three-year career and at times last season was an adequate defender on the outfield corners.

“I’m one of the biggest David Eckstein fans on the planet, but I think Fletch is a little bit more supple,” Maddon, the Angels bench coach in 2002, said when asked to compare the players.

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“Eck really had to move his body into position to make throws, and he couldn’t make as many acrobatic or off-balance throws as Fletch, who is able to throw from more angles and arm slots.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon has a conundrum with up-and-coming David Fletcher, whose statistics suggest he needs to be in a lineup loaded with veterans.

Fletcher, a former Cypress High School and Loyola Marymount standout who was a sixth-round pick of the Angels in 2015, is also sparking the Angels offense from the leadoff spot, much like Eckstein did in 2002.

Through five games, Fletcher is batting .556 (10 for 18) with two doubles, two runs, three RBIs, four walks and three strikeouts. He has a .609 on-base percentage.

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“The thing about David is … the hits are wonderful, and he draws his walks, and he makes good plays, but I’m telling you, he plays baseball as it was drawn up,” Maddon said. “The analytical world does not infiltrate his methods.

“That’s what baseball players have looked like for 100 years. He was taught properly, and it’s really a pleasure to work with him. That’s a baseball player, and that’s how a baseball player is supposed to play the game.”

Rendon, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of his Angels debut Tuesday night after signing a seven-year, $245-million deal in December, said the Angels have been “feeding of that energy, off those hits” that Fletcher is providing.

The former Washington star, who helped the Nationals win their first World Series championship last October, also has been impressed with Fletcher’s defense.

“He looks natural at any position he’s at, whether it’s third base, shortstop or second base,” Rendon said. “He’s just a grinder out there. I was telling someone the other day, if you were like an Avengers Team, or he was a Marvel teammate, he’d be like Captain America because he’s Mr. Baseball. It’s awesome. It’s fun to be around, for sure.”


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