ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At various times in a major-league season, injuries test a team's depth. The good ones have the spare paint lying around at Triple-A or on the bench to patch up holes as they arise. If they're really good, by October, nobody really remembers them.
Then, there's the next stage, when it's no longer about depth and all about versatility. That's when you find out not if you have players, but if you have athletes.
The Los Angeles Angels reached the latter place on Wednesday afternoon with a cobbled-together infield featuring a catcher at first base, a third baseman at shortstop and a second baseman at third. And of all nights, they had their sinkerball pitcher on the mound.
Joel Pineiro got to the ballpark Wednesday and saw a lineup that featured Brandon Wood at shortstop, Kevin Frandsen at third base and Mike Napoli at first. To his credit, he didn't change his game and those guys managed to make the plays behind him in the Angels' easy 5-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Knowing they can do something like that if they have to might be an important mental chip for the Angels to store away. They hope to not have to go to that look too frequently -- and manager Mike Scioscia says he thinks injured shortstop Erick Aybar could be playing by this weekend. But it's nice to know it's there for them if they need it.
"I think, if we were coming out of spring training talking about Napoli at first, Frandsen at third, Wood at short, you'd say, 'Where's your team going?'" Scioscia said. "I think we'd have probably 100 different scenarios of how the heck did we get here? But seeing it every day, we know how we got here and, with our pitching intact, we feel good about the direction we're moving."
Wood, making his first start at shortstop this year, looked as if he was figuring it out again in the first inning. He's a quick study. It's looking more and more as if defense will be his specialty. That will be key since his future appears to be as a utility man.
All three batters in the first hit the ball right to Wood. Rickie Weeks hit a grounder and Wood made a shaky one-hop throw that Napoli deftly scooped. Corey Hart smashed a wicked sinking liner that Wood caught awkwardly and then Ryan Braun hit a roller that Wood fielded in stride. After that, things went surprisingly smoothly around the horn.
For Pineiro, there was nothing to do but trust that the defense would make his work stand up. Judging by the fact that he cruised through eight innings, giving up only a run and three hits, it apparently did.
"We're here for a reason. We're all big-league ballplayers," Pineiro said. "Obviously, it's hard to lose two of your starting infielders, but Mike knows who to plug in in situations like that. They came up big right away."
The look wasn't so jarring for guys who played minor-league ball with Wood. He played shortstop up until last season and he and second baseman Howie Kendrick have turned plenty of double plays together.
"That was our middle infield coming up," said catcher Bobby Wilson, whose first major-league home run staked Pineiro to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. "Obviously, we have to pick up the pieces and rally around one another right now. Coming up through the organization, there wasn't anything besides winning. Winning was the only option you had. It seemed like if you didn't win, you either got released in the minor leagues or you just didn't play."
What should the Angels do to shore up their battered infield? With Maicer Izturis on the disabled list and Aybar's durability questionable because of a left knee injury, the Angels are ultra-thin on the infield.
There are some players who could be acquired on the trade market for very little outgoing talent. The Boston Red Sox can't find anywhere for Mike Lowell to play and are clearly listening to trade offers. The Oakland A's recently designated Jake Fox for assignment. If the Angels want a middle infielder, they could swing a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who just designated Akinori Iwamura for assignment.
None of the above are ideal options, but it might be better than what the Angels currently have. The key could be finances. The Angels don't appear to be in a spending mode, so the team that trades an expensive player might have to eat a lot of his salary.
Quote of the day
"It's the way they came out of a hat today." -- Scioscia on a lineup that had Howie Kendrick leading off and Napoli batting second.
The Angels designated outfielder Michael Ryan for assignment to make roster room for Mathis' return. The Angels have 10 days to trade or release Ryan, 32. After that, he has the option of accepting a minor-league assignment or declaring for free agency.
Ryan, who went five years between big-league appearances before showing up with the Angels in Seattle last month, said he hasn't decided what he'll do.
"I had a blast. I just wish I could have played a little better," Ryan said.
The Angels are off Thursday and fly to Chicago, where they play their first series ever at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.