Efren Navarro proving versatility in season’s third stint with Angels

Efren Navarro on his late-inning heroics: 'It's amazing to have that happen.'

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Efren Navarro’s big-league moment arrived last Friday night, in the 16th inning of a game that stretched past midnight.

There weren’t many fans remaining at Angel Stadium, but that didn’t matter. Navarro drove a pitch into center field, Mike Trout scored from second base and the Angels beat the Seattle Mariners 3-2.

A walk-off hit isn’t official until a player’s teammates chase him down, slap him on the back, pull off his jersey and douse him with a bucket of whatever liquid is on the bench. And that’s what happened to Navarro.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

"It’s amazing to have that happen," Navarro, 28, said. "I remember I would watch that happen on TV, and being washed in water and Gatorade, that’s a good feeling to have, especially having your teammates running after you."

In his third stint with the Angels this season, Navarro is proving that he has a place on the roster as a backup first baseman and corner outfielder. His willingness to learn to play left and right last winter turned out to be a critical decision, one that could keep him with the team through the postseason.

With Albert Pujols locked in at first, Navarro asked the Angels if they would allow him to try playing left. He got a shot with Hermosillo in the Mexican winter league, then got some instruction from former Angels and Dodgers outfielder Ken Landreaux at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton.

"I’ve never heard of versatility hurting a player, and in Efren’s case it was critical to his ability to get some looks up here and get some at-bats," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He’s important to us right now."

The Angels gave Navarro, who is from Lynwood, some time in the outfield during spring training, and he still shags balls during batting practice on a regular basis to understand the nuances of spin and carry.

"I feel that’s why I’m here now," he said.

Navarro is making the most of his chances. Before this season, he had a combined 14 at-bats during brief stays with the Angels in 2011 and 2013. This season, he already has 61 at-bats and is hitting .295, with an on-base percentage of .368. He’s started five games at first base, five in left and four in right.

There’s little question he’s done all he can in the minors. In 72 games this season with Triple-A Salt Lake, he’s hitting .326 with 50 RBI in 72 games. Last season, he hit .326; the year before that, .294.

Sticking with the Angels means helping offensively as well as defensively. In one six-game stretch this month, Navarro was 7 for 21 (.333), including his game-winner against the Mariners.

"I feel like every at-bat that I have is an opportunity for me to contribute to the team," he said. "My situation is a little different. One day I’m here, the next day I’m back down. I don’t know what the plans are, but as of right now I’m here and I’m going to continue to work hard and put good at-bats together."

As long as he keeps doing that, he’ll figure in the Angels’ immediate future and perhaps into the playoffs, if they get there.

But as he knows, there are no guarantees.

"I’m not surprised that he’s given us good at-bats because he’s really evolved as an offensive player," Scioscia said. "He’s not going to drive the ball out of the park. He understands his swing, that he’s going to hit it hard somewhere. He’s definitely contributed to what we’ve been doing to this point."