The Angels have an unmistakable resiliency, proven by their three recent road wins over the first-place Rangers and wins in nine of their last 11 games.
Yet, as the Angels close in on the midway point of the season, their depth is being tested again by injuries. They lost Zach Neto to an oblique strain and then watched Anthony Rendon and Gio Urshela get banged up during Thursday’s 5-3 win over Texas.
Although general manager Perry Minasian addressed the team’s depth in the offseason, the uncertainty created by injuries is hard to overlook as the Angels (39-32) sit 4.5 games behind Texas in the AL West and one game out of a wild card spot heading into their weekend series at Kansas City.
The severity of Neto’s injury was not disclosed when he was placed on the IL before Thursday’s game but even a Grade 1 strain, described as mild, requires a typical recovery time of 27 days, per MLB.com. For example, Andrew Velazquez — who was brought up by the Angels from triple A on Thursday to fill in at shortstop — spent over a month on the IL with an oblique strain and returned to action just a few days ago.
Velazquez can lock down shortstop almost as well as Neto in the field. What Velazquez doesn’t match at the moment, however, is Neto’s bat. In 23 games in triple A, Velazquez batted .203 with a .729 OPS, three doubles, one triple, three home runs, seven RBIs and 15 walks before going hitless Thursday.
Urshela got hurt trying to outrun a throw to first base and Rendon got hit in the wrist with a pitch in the first inning. Manager Phil Nevin told reporters in Texas that both would be further evaluated, but that Rendon’s wrist was swollen and Urshela was on crutches with hip and knee issues.
Best-case scenario, Rendon and Urshela avoid going on the IL, be considered day to day and the Angels would also still have Luis Rengifo or Brandon Drury (served a one-game suspension on Thursday) as options at third base. Urshela was meant to be the primary player who stepped in at third base if Rendon was absent, though he has shared some time at that corner with Rengifo this season.
Rengifo, who this season has played every outfield and every infield position except first base, would be the likely option to fill in at third, with Drury playing second, Velazquez at short and Jared Walsh at first if both Rendon and Urshela were absent. Catcher Matt Thaiss and Drury can also play first base.
Other infielders in the minors who have played in the infield for the big league team include Jake Lamb, who helped man first base alongside Urshela and Drury with Walsh on the IL to start the season; Livan Soto, who this season has made appearances at shortstop and second base; Michael Stefanic, who has not played in the bigs this season but filled in at second base in 22 games last year; and David Fletcher, who is currently on the bereavement list but would require the Angels to make a 40-man move if they decide to bring him back.
And in an emergency situation, Taylor Ward could make another spot appearance at first base. Hunter Renfroe, when he was acquired by the Angels this offseason, had also offered to shift elsewhere on the field if the Angels were out of other options.
But it’s not about having just any player on the field anywhere.
The Angels have played better of late because of contributions by Neto, Rendon and Urshela, at the plate and defensively.
They’ve each had clutch hits or walks and made eye-popping catches and plays, particularly Neto, who looked like a rookie of the year candidate — batting .259 with a .769 on-base-plus-slugging rate, six home runs, 12 doubles, 22 RBIs and 11 walks in 55 games — and whose spot batting ninth in the order was seen as another leadoff batter.
It’s a small sample size, but the Angels’ resiliency helped carry a lineup that didn’t include: Neto’s improving bat — he had his first multi-home run game during the Angels’ last homestand and got that sixth home run during the Angels’ series in Texas; Rendon’s ability to swing after his first at-bat; and Urshela’s presence altogether after the first inning.
Perhaps that resiliency and team buy-in — not to mention Shohei Ohtani’s hot hitting of late — can continue to help them until their ailing teammates return to full strength.
They’ll find out one way or another.