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Angels’ Michael Stefanic feels more comfortable second time around

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Stefanic returned to the big leagues with a new mindset.

The 26-year-old undrafted infielder was a feel-good story when he earned his first call-up in July, but he went back to the minors 48 at-bats later with a .167 average.

Stefanic was recalled for a second chance last week.

“I definitely feel more comfortable the second time around,” Stefanic said this week. “I feel like everything is more natural. I don’t feel rushed in the box. I’m excited to show that when I get on the field.”

Stefanic, who was in the lineup Thursday afternoon in Texas, had two hits and a walk in his first 10 trips to the plate since returning. Although it’s a small sample, the quality of his at-bats has encouraged manager Phil Nevin.

“A little more patience,” Nevin said. “Attacking the ball well. We heard a lot about his swing decisions, getting on base and things like that. … You can see a little more comfort at the plate, for sure.”

Stefanic said he got into a bad habit in his first trip of his bat getting too far from his body.

“It just caused me to jam myself on pitches that I normally hammer,” he said. “I feel like I nailed that down with Brian Betancourth, our Triple-A hitting coach.”

Stefanic hit .303 with a .909 OPS at Triple-A in between his big-league stints, including a stretch of .426 and 1.237 in his last 58 plate appearances.

Producing at the plate is going to be crucial for Stefanic if he wants continued opportunities in the majors, because defense is not his strength. Stefanic has fought against his reputation as a poor defender, and he’s played well in the field so far in the majors. Next year, though, there will be an increased premium on range for middle infielders because teams will not be allowed to shift three infielders on the same side of second base.

“I definitely think it impacts me,” Stefanic said. “Obviously, we’ve seen how the Angels like to manage games. If we’re ahead, I’ve been taken out early. That’s something that I’ve got to improve in the offseason, even more than I have. I feel like, for all the talk about my defense, I feel like I’ve had a really strong defensive season. … I’m really good at the balls at me, but continuing to improve that first-step quickness and explosiveness at the ball will only pay dividends in the long run.”

WEATHER WATCH

Shohei Ohtani is scheduled to pitch Friday in Minnesota, but there is rain in the forecast. If the game is rained out, it could cost Ohtani a start.

As of now, he is penciled in to pitch Friday, then Sept. 29 at home and in the season finale Oct. 5. If his start in Minnesota is pushed back to Saturday, he could not make two starts after that on his normal rest.

Ohtani needs to pitch another 14 innings to finish the season with the 162 innings necessary to qualify for the ERA leaderboard.

Ohtani was not in the lineup Thursday in Texas. Nevin said he wanted to give Ohtani a day off, and the most logical day was the day before his start, when the Angels were facing a lefty. Nevin said he expects Ohtani to be in the lineup for all 12 of the remaining games.

NOTES

The Angels are still unsure if Anthony Rendon (wrist surgery) will be able to play this season. Rendon was expected to miss the rest of the season, but if he could come back, it would provide him some peace of mind heading into the offseason. It would also allow him to serve his five-game suspension. “He felt really good yesterday,” Nevin said Thursday. “We’ll get him out there again and re-evaluate it every time. He needs to show he’s game ready. How close he is to that, I don’t know.” …

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UP NEXT

Angels (RHP Shohei Ohtani, 13-9, 2.43) at Twins (TBD), 5:10 p.m. Friday, Bally Sports West, 830 AM

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