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Angels’ experiment at second is a mixed bag in loss to Rangers

Angels second baseman Matt Thaiss throws to first for the out on a grounder by Texas Rangers' Jose Trevino.
Angels second baseman Matt Thaiss throws to first for the out on a grounder by Texas Rangers’ Jose Trevino during the fourth inning on Tuesday in Arlington, Texas.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Joe Maddon saw corner infielders such as Mike Moustakas and Travis Shaw make successful moves to second base, and the Angels manager thought Matt Thaiss could do the same.

His middle infield thinned by injuries to David Fletcher, Franklin Barreto and Luis Rengifo, his lineup in need of another left-handed bat against Texas ace Lance Lynn and the Angels trying to breathe life into their longshot playoff hopes, Maddon gave Thaiss his first professional start at second Tuesday night.

“We don’t have that many games left,” Maddon said. “If you’re going to take a chance, now is the time. Who knows? You might find lightning in a bottle.”

Thaiss, who was drafted in 2016 as a catcher, moved to first base in the minor leagues and has sprinkled in a few starts at third, would have traded lightning in a bottle for finding a fairly routine fourth-inning grounder up the middle in his glove.

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Thaiss couldn’t make a backhand grab of Ronald Guzman’s bouncer with runners on second and third, and his two-out error allowed a pair of runs to score in an eventual 7-1 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

“He just didn’t get in front of it,” Maddon said. “He tried to backhand it. It crawled up his arm. He just didn’t get in the right position, and that was it.”

The miscue turned a 1-0 Texas lead — built on Elvis Andrus’ solo homer in the second — into a 3-0 advantage. A pair of sacrifice flies in the fifth made it 5-1, and the last-place Rangers were on their way to snapping the Angels’ five-game win streak and preventing them from gaining ground on Houston and New York for a playoff spot.

Thaiss, 25, had what Maddon described as a “limited” amount of work at second at the team’s alternate training site, and he had a pregame workout there after being recalled Tuesday.

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“Yeah, I’m not gonna lie to you, I was a little shocked,” Thaiss said of his reaction to starting at second, a position he hadn’t played since Little League.

“But as an organization, we take pride on having guys who are able to play everywhere.”

With two on in the fourth, Thaiss made a nice play to charge Jose Trevino’s slow roller to his left and throw to first for the out, the runners advancing. Starter Andrew Heaney struck out Andrus and appeared to escape the jam when Guzman grounded a ball up the middle.

“I just flat-out missed it,” Thaiss said. “That was a play that kind of dictated the way the rest of the game went. The momentum went down the drain there.”

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Thaiss went 0 for 4 and struck out twice, dropping his average to .143. The Angels also lost one of their hottest hitters in the fourth when Justin Upton was hit by Lynn’s 96-mph fastball in the left hand just two innings after he was hit in the back of the left wrist by a 92-mph fastball.

Upton had fought off a one-for-39 slump by hitting .429 (12 for 28) with a 1.265 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, two homers, three doubles and nine RBIs in his previous eight games, raising his average from .099 to .192.

The left fielder was replaced by Taylor Ward. X-rays on Upton’s hand were negative for a fracture, and he is considered day to day with a left-hand contusion, though he is not expected to play Wednesday.

Lynn stopped Angels first-base coach Jose Molina after the half-inning, presumably to extend an apology to Upton.

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But that was small consolation for a team that lost three players — outfielder Brian Goodwin, infielder Tommy La Stella and catcher Jason Castro — to trades before Aug. 31, has two infielders — Fletcher (left-ankle sprain) and Barreto (left-shoulder subluxation) — on the injured list and another, Rengifo (left-thumb sprain), slowed by injury.

Three takeaways on the Angels

  1. An offense that broke out for 32 runs in a four-game sweep of Houston, hitting .313 with a .974 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, seven homers and eight doubles, was muted by Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn and two relievers, mustering six hits and going two for 10 with runners in scoring position. The Angels missed a chance to tie the game in the fourth when, with runners on first and third, Max Stassi grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
  2. Andrew Heaney gave the Angels a chance, allowing three earned runs and five hits in five innings, striking out four and walking one, but the left-hander wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in his previous two starts, when he allowed one run and seven hits in 142/3 innings, with 16 strikeouts and four walks. Heaney induced swings and misses on only six of his 84 pitches.
  3. Jared Walsh continued to solidify his role as the left-handed-hitting part of a first-base platoon with Albert Pujols, driving a 2-and-2 fastball for an opposite-field homer to left-center in the fifth. Walsh is batting .333 (six for 18) with two homers, two doubles, five RBIs and five runs in his last six games.

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