David Fletcher’s single lifts Angels over Blue Jays in 11 innings
David Fletcher converted a groundout that ricocheted off the bill of his cap. He hit a double that traveled less than 200 feet. And with two outs in the 11th inning of a tied game Thursday night, he did the most David Fletcher-esque thing yet, looping a soft two-run single into shallow center field to send the Angels to a 7-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
“He hit it hard enough, yet soft enough,” manager Joe Maddon said of Fletcher’s winning hit, which left the bat at only 70.3 mph but found a landing spot between two Blue Jays. “That’s what he’s capable of doing.”
With the win, the Angels improved to 5-2. In all of their wins, they’ve scored the winning run during their last trip to the plate.
“You always want the close games to go your way,” Fletcher said. “It feels like the last few years, they haven’t. But right now, it’s going great.”
Here are three other observations from the Angels’ series-opening win.
Trout comes close to hitting for the cycle
Mike Trout had a career-first, for a regular-season game anyway.
He hit a home run so far, it landed on the campus of an elementary school.
It happened in the fifth inning when the score was tied at 3-3. Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling threw Trout a first-pitch fastball up in the zone. Trout clobbered it 444 feet over the left-field wall.
In most MLB stadiums, it would have landed in the bleachers. Maybe even the outfield concourse. But TD Ballpark — the Blue Jays’ 8,500-seat spring training stadium that is temporarily serving as their home venue because of COVID-19 travel restrictions to Canada — has none of those things.
Instead, the ballpark neighbors Curtis Fundamental Elementary School. And Trout’s homer, his third-straight game with a big fly, appeared to land somewhere on its grounds.
“Luckily,” Maddon said, “school was off for the evening.”
Trout also singled and doubled, raising his batting average to .417 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage to 1.438. He might have completed the cycle, too, had Blue Jays center fielder Randal Grichuk not robbed him with a diving catch in the ninth inning that kept the score tied.
José Rojas is the pride of his Mexican immigrant parents, a role model to siblings and a relentless worker on the field. Now, he’s also a member of the Angels.
Canning up and down in his season debut
Making his first start of the season, Griffin Canning took an inning to find his footing.
In the first, he gave up a one-out walk, a two-out RBI single and two-run home run to Vladimir Guerrero Jr, putting the Angels in an early 3-1 hole.
After that though, the third-year right-hander hit his stride.
He retired 14 straight batters over the next five innings, striking out two batters in the third, all three he faced in the fourth and seven overall in his five-inning, four-run start.
“I just, for lack of a better term, zoned out,” said Canning, who was removed only after giving up a solo homer to Cavan Biggio in the sixth. “Ideally, I get in that mindset every game. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. It shouldn’t take a three-run first inning for me to get there, but that’s just what happened today.”
Canning also used a fastball-slider combination almost exclusively throughout the night, throwing the two a combined 70 times in 81 total pitches.
After throwing cutters and changeups more than 15% of the time each last season, he opted for just 10 changeups and no cutters against the Blue Jays.
“It was more just the matchup,” he explained. “Facing a lot of righties, that was the plan going into it. And it was working well, so might as well just stick with it.”
Living in a tent
Where did the Angels get dressed before Thursday’s game?
“We’re in kind of a tent,” Maddon said. “But a well-constructed tent.”
Such is the reality of this weekend’s series at TD Ballpark, where the Blue Jays will play at least their first three homestands while awaiting clearance to return to using Rogers Centre in Toronto as their home venue.
Like most spring facilities, TD Ballpark’s visiting clubhouse was too small to host a full MLB roster for an entire series. So a giant tent structure was erected behind the left-field stands instead, complete with a socially distanced locker room, dining room, weight room, training room, bathroom and coaching offices.
Maddon was initially skeptical when he learned the Angels’ first road series of the regular season would be in Dunedin, saying he remembered from his days as the Tampa Bay Rays manager that “this ballpark never had a great reputation in spring training.”
But the makeshift clubhouse space is “bigger and better than you think,” Maddon said. “It’s actually pretty good. It’s more of a temporary situation, but it’s good, it’s clean, it’s big, it’s cold. The food room is set outside and it’s also very large. The bathroom facility, the coaches’ room, it’s outstanding. So in spite of being thrown together, it’s actually pretty good.”
The field of play also got a big-league facelift. Extra light towers were trucked in to meet MLB standards, and the field itself was given a manicured regular-season treatment.
“[Infield and third base coach] Brian Butterfield liked the field,” Maddon said. “And Butter is about as tough as it gets when it comes to a field evaluation.”
The stadium has small dimensions and can play even shorter when the wind comes whipping off the nearby coast of the Gulf of Mexico to create a jetstream effect blowing out to the outfield. But on Thursday, the wind died down as the game went on. There were three home runs, but also several fly balls that died at the warning track.
The crowd was also small, officially announced at just 1,348 people. But Maddon said it wasn’t an issue, not even after the Angels played in front of 11,000-plus in each of their six home games last week.
“The intensity of the game kept everybody locked in,” Maddon said, adding: “It was a fair ballpark tonight. Well-groomed. I think the Blue Jays and MLB have to receive a lot of credit for that.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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