Jared Walsh rises as bright spot in Angels’ lefty woes

ANAHEIM – The Angels’ place in the standings allows for two interpretations. At 21-30, they would be wise to take advantage of the season’s final nine games with an eye toward next year. Thanks to an expanded 16-team playoff field, the Angels are also mathematically alive for a postseason berth. There’s still something to play for in 2020.

Manager Joe Maddon was able to serve both masters Thursday. Rookie Jared Walsh got his sixth consecutive start at first base, batting second, with a left-handed starting pitcher (Alex Young) on the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“He’s worked good at-bats against the lefties too,” Maddon said of Walsh, a left-handed hitter. “If he’s going to ascend as a regular everyday first baseman, he needs to understand how to do that.”

Hitting left-handed pitching has been a challenge for the Angels in 2020, but Walsh looks remarkably immune in a small sample. His first-inning single against Young gave him a .333 batting average (7 for 21) with one home run against southpaws this season.

As a team, the Angels began the day batting .227 against lefties. Some of the culprits are obvious. Rookie Jo Adell (.175) and veteran Justin Upton (.212) have struggled at the plate in general. So have switch-hitter Luis Rengifo (.100) and Shohei Ohtani (.154), a left-handed hitter.

Meanwhile, Mike Trout was hitting .209 against lefties through Wednesday, well below his career mark of .289.

Maddon said he isn’t concerned about Trout straightening things out – “he’s just that good,” the manager said – but he addressed the team-wide malaise against lefties prior to the Angels’ series against the Diamondbacks.

Arizona started three left-handers (Young, Caleb Smith and Madison Bumgarner) in the three-game series.

“It’s almost like people want to throw lefties against us,” Maddon said. “It’s something that over the course of 162 (games) it would work itself out. Right now, it’s exaggerated a little bit more.

“I agree it’s been a concern,” Maddon continued. “I’ve asked Jeremy (Reed, the Angels’ hitting coach) to challenge the hitters regarding that. They know. More than anything, it’s an anomaly moment that we’ll be able to work through but we don’t have a lot of time.”

SPEAKING OF SHOHEI

Ohtani was held out of the Angels’ lineup and will be out again Friday with yet another lefty starter, Wes Benjamin, on the mound for the Texas Rangers. Ohtani will have had six days off by Saturday, when right-hander Lance Lynn starts for Texas opposite Andrew Heaney.

“He’s fine,” Maddon said of Ohtani. “I’ve talked to him through Ippei (Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter). He’s doing well. He’s working on a lot of stuff. … I’d rather just be a little more patient and wait.”

Albert Pujols has been the Angels’ designated hitter in each of the past five games without Ohtani. Pujols went 2 for 4 and scored a run Thursday, but benching Ohtani was not done with the future Hall of Famer in mind.

“This is not about Albert. It’s about Jared Walsh,” Maddon said. “If Walsh wasn’t doing what he’s doing, then Albert goes to first and I probably would’ve plugged Ohtani in sooner.”

Walsh is hitting .328 after a 1-for-3 performance Thursday. Ohtani is hitting .189 with five home runs in 150 plate appearances this season.

ALSO

After Benjamin and Lynn, the Rangers will start another pair of right-handers: Kyle Cody (0-1, 1.42 ERA) on Sunday and Kyle Gibson (2-5, 5.18 ERA) on Monday.

The Angels will counter with right-hander Jaime Barria (0-0, 3.38 ERA) on Friday, Heaney (4-3, 4.02 ERA) on Saturday, and right-hander Dylan Bundy (5-3, 3.12 ERA) on Monday. Sunday’s starter is still to be announced.

That game is a national broadcast on MLB Network.