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Back in the bigs: Kean Wong doubles in his bid at regular playing time with Angels

  • Los Angeles Angels’ Kean Wong, top, throws to first base after forcing out Oakland Athletics’ Elvis Andrus (17) at second base on a double play hit into by Aramis Garcia during the third inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, May 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Kean Wong has the opportunity to match his desire, and he’s already making the most of it.

Wong doubled Saturday for the Angels in his return to the major leagues, and it appears he’ll get a shot at regular playing time at second base after earning a promotion from Triple A because of an injury to infielder Jose Iglesias. Playing in his first big league game since September of 2019, also with the Angels, the former Waiakea standout was inserted into the seventh spot in the lineup in a 4-0 victory against the A’s in Oakland, Calif., finishing 1 for 4.

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After grounding out and striking out in his first two at-bats, Wong’s first career extra-base hit in the majors came in the sixth inning on a drive off the wall in right-center off of starter Frankie Montas.

Iglesias, a shortstop, hurt his hamstring Tuesday. For a few days the Angels called it a cramp and hoped Iglesias would be able to return, but on Friday night they placed him on the injured list. David Fletcher, the Angels’ everyday second baseman, is covering for Iglesias at shortstop.

Wong was producing at Triple-A Salt Lake, hitting .350 with a .913 OPS at the time he was recalled.

The flying time from Utah to the Bay Area is roughly 90 minutes, but for the 26-year-old Wong, the journey back to the bigs took much longer. He made his major league debut with Tampa Bay in 2019, but he was waived by the Rays and Angels in the span of two months, getting seven games under his belt.

He had to work out in Hilo last year as the pandemic canceled his 2020 minor league season in the Giants’ organization.

After electing for free agency, Wong resigned with the Angels and showed he was intent on rising above Triple-A in his first 19 games with Salt Lake, homering three times with three stolen bases.

“I just came out, just telling myself, this was my last season, you know, give everything got,” Wong told KHON2 last week. “It’s working out right now.”

Wong has hit at every level in the minors, and he said he worked on his defense in the offseason with his Gold Glove brother, Kolten Wong of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Along with handling four grounders Saturday, Wong helped turn a 5-4-3 double play. Angels manager Joe Maddon also credited him with helping the Angels turn another twin killing by deking baserunner Tony Kemp.

Wong has impressed his manager in the past.

“He’s the kind of guy you have to see on a regular basis to appreciate,” Maddon told Tribune News Service before Saturday’s game

Maddon said he’s not sure if the younger Wong can play to the defensive level of his brother, but he likely gives the Angels a better defensive alternative than Jose Rojas, who otherwise would be the second baseman while Fletcher is at short.

“He give us another option,” Maddon said. “Go out and get hot and see what happens.”

Iglesias is batting .283 with four home runs and two stolen bases in 167 plate appearances. Depending on how Iglesias’s injury progresses, he could return as early as June 5, when the Angels are in the middle of a four-game home series with the Mariners. The Angels play a series finale Sunday at Oakland before beginning a two-games series Monday in San Francisco.

Based off Wong’s minor league production and what Maddon saw of him in spring training, he’s optimistic he can contribute.

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“If you just show up on a particular day, he might not impress you with a particular tool or skill,” Maddon said, “but cumulatively, over a period of time, a lot impresses you. He impresses you.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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