Mike Trout slung his bat and hissed as he jogged to first base in the fifth inning of Thursday’s eventual 7-3 win. For the second straight time, and the third time in the last two nights, the Angels’ 23-year-old center fielder — and typically mild-mannered superstar — had absorbed a fastball to his left triceps area.
Trout took an 89-mph sinker there from Nick Tepesch in the first inning on Wednesday, then a 90-mph from Nick Martinez in the third inning on Thursday and an 88-mph fastball there in the fifth inning on Friday. It would’ve been four times, had Trout not dodged Tespesch’s fifth-inning fastball inside on Wednesday, instead drawing a walk.
After the game, Trout said he was “good” and “just sore.”
Asked of his frustration to get hit in the same spot so often, Trout said: “I mean, you go up there to have at-bats. You don’t go up there thinking you’re going to get hit. They’re just pitching inside. They’ve been doing it the whole series, and I just got hit a couple times.”
Martinez said he was “just trying to establish the fastball inside and it got away from me.”
“I understand the frustration,” he added, “but it’s not on purpose.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes him, but was also unhappy.
“When you are pitching inside, you can’t pitch inside with reckless abandon,” Scioscia said. “You have to have the command to be able to do it. I don’t think anyone likes when you get hit in the arm twice.”
Four innings later, the Angels got what seemed like retaliation, when Joe Smith came out of the bullpen for the bottom of the ninth and fired a first-pitch fastball near the waist of the first batter he saw, rookie catcher Tomas Telis. Scioscia said Smith “yanked a sinker” and added, “We’re not trying to hit anybody.” Smith said “one just got away” and “nothing was intentional.” But they’re supposed to say that. Everyone can see what happened.
The important thing is teams are constantly trying to pitch Trout inside this season, and lately they’ve been missing.
“It’s been all year; they’ve been pitching me more inside,” Trout said. “Different teams, different ways. I’m going to keep my same approach. I think I get in trouble when I look for that pitch [inside], so I’m just going to stay up the middle and see ball, hit ball.”
In the first inning of the Angels’ 8-1 win over the Rangers on Wednesday, Albert Pujols hit his first triple since 2010 (and only the 16th of his career). In the third, he laced a double (then got thrown out diving back to the bag after deciding he shouldn’t try for a second triple). In the fifth, he singled to right field (on a blooper that could’ve been caught by Rangers first baseman Adam Rosales).
The next three plate appearances: Grounder to short, grounder to short, grounder to short.
Were you searching for the homer?
“My fifth at-bat,” Pujols admitted, “just to give it a ride. … When you’re swinging the bat great, and seeing the ball good like I was tonight, you don’t go out there looking for a homer. I would say my fifth at-bat I did. I went out there with nobody on and see if I can put a good barrel and have it carry.”
Pujols has never hit for the cycle. On 32 occasions, he’s fallen a triple short. On three occasions — most recently Sept. 8, 2007 — he’s fallen a homer short.
“It would’ve been pretty cool, especially with the win,” Pujols said.
“It’s not easy. That’s why you don’t see it every day. It’s pretty tough to do. Everybody says the hardest part is to get that triple, which I believe it is, but that homer, too, is pretty tough.”
Wednesday marked the sixth straight day that Josh Hamilton missed a game with a stiff right shoulder that has shown no signs of getting any better. He took 40 to 50 swings in the batting cage early Tuesday afternoon, “felt OK,” then went outside to throw and “just having the glove on my hand, lifting it up kind of set it off again, so I shut it down.”
So Hamilton took two more cortisone shots, in addition to the one he took when he exited Thursday’s game in the middle of the eighth inning, and is searching for any signs that this is actually moving in the right direction.
“I’m usually never sore after cortisone shots,” Hamilton said. “The fact that I am might be a good thing, especially when you have the right spot.”
If the ailment persists when the Angels return to Southern California on Friday, Hamilton will get an MRI. Asked if he’s concerned this could be a prolonged injury, the 33-year-old outfielder said: “If I go a couple more days and I’m still not any better, then you start getting concerned.”
“Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and feel better and the next day, too,” Hamilton added. “I’m still doing some biking and stuff in my legs, and I’ve been here since 1 o’clock doing treatment on my arm and my neck.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’s “not anymore concerned [on Wednesday] than I was yesterday,” but that’s because he was really concerned when Hamilton was out of the lineup Tuesday. Scioscia, at least, can take comfort in the fact that his offense hasn’t skipped a beat without its cleanup hitter, amassing 50 runs over the last five games and outscoring opponents by 25 runs over the last three nights.
For now, Hamilton is merely a spectator.
“Obviously it’s frustrating, but it’s exciting just to still be here and get to watch the game,” said Hamilton, batting .263 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 88 games. “It sucks not being out there with them, given that they’re playing that well. It’s still a blessing to be here and watch it.”
The Angels eventually ran away with it on Tuesday, but before the offense cranked out seven runs in the eighth inning, it was lining up to be a one-run game, and a save situation in the ninth.
Huston Street, however, was not available.
Mike Scioscia said Street has some tightness in the upper portion of his right hamstring, an ailment that prompted the Angels’ manager to stay away from his veteran closer. Instead, Fernando Salas pitched the seventh, Kevin Jepsen had the eighth and Joe Smith was ready to come in for the save in the ninth before the Angels’ offense batted around. Scioscia could’ve stayed away from Jepsen with an eight-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, but he hadn’t pitched in four days and wanted to use him nonetheless.
Street — with a 1.33 ERA and 37 saves — appeared in three straight games from Thursday to Saturday and has had the last three days off. Scioscia expects him to be available on Wednesday. Scioscia made a rare mound visit without making a pitching change in the bottom of the ninth, when Mike Morin plunked Michael Choice, then walked Guilder Rodriguez, the journeyman Minor Leaguer who had struck out in his first three plate appearances.
“It looked like he was over-thinking some things,” Scioscia said, “so I wanted to make sure he was OK.”
Morin retired the next two batters to seal the Angels’ season-high-tying sixth straight win.
For further proof on the sheer unpredictability of baseball, look no further than what has transpired between the A’s and Angels since the end of July.
The A’s had already beefed up their rotation by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then took a step further by adding Jon Lester on July 31 — at a time when they held a two-game cushion in the division — because they wanted to make sure their season didn’t come down to a one-game playoff. The Angels added no such starting pitcher to a staff that was already at a disadvantage, then suffered a couple of crippling injuries to said rotation, with Tyler Skaggs succumbing to Tommy John surgery on Aug. 10 (an injury that predated to July 31) and Garrett Richards suffering a season-ending torn patellar tendon on Aug. 20.
On Aug. 10, the Angels trailed the A’s by four games.
Since then, they’ve picked up 12 games in the AL West standings, and now they have a firm grip on the division, leading the A’s by a whopping eight games with only 19 left to play.
With a deep bullpen, an offense that seems to be coming on strong once again and a rotation that uses a concoction of relievers in Richards’ spot every five days, the Angels have reeled off five straight victories and won 11 of their last 13 games. The A’s, struggling mightily offensively since trading their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to acquire Lester, have dropped nine of their last 11, including four in a row at Angel Stadium.
Here’s a look at how both teams have fared in a few categories over that 30-day stretch, with their Major League rankings in parenthesis …
Angels: 20-7 (1st)
A’s: 8-19 (T-29th)
Angels: 4.8 (7th)
A’s: 1.6 (22nd)
Angels: 3.19 (7th)
A’s: 4.24 (23rd)
Angels: 1.10 (5th)
A’s: 1.09 (3rd)
Angels: 5.11 (4th)
A’s: 3.41 (24th)
Angels: .735 (9th)
A’s: .633 (25th)
The A’s conclude their seven-game road trip this week, with three in Chicago followed by three in Seattle over the weekend. They then have a nine-game homestand against the Rangers, Phillies and Angels, then finish on the road with four in Arlington, a prime opportunity to pick up some games at the end.
The Angels are finishing their 10-game road trip this week, with three in Arlington, then have a 10-game homestand against the Astros, Mariners (four games) and Rangers. Their season ends with a six-game road trip through Oakland and Seattle, with an off day sandwiched between the two series.
Angels owner Arte Moreno picked up the 2015 option on Jerry Dipoto’s contract earlier this season, ensuring that Dipoto will return for his fourth season as general manager.
Dipoto was originally signed to a three-year deal with two club options. The 2016 option has yet to be picked up, but this is nonetheless an improvement on Dipoto’s perceived job security. At this time last year, with the Angels on the verge of finishing six games below .500 and missing the playoffs for a fourth straight year, speculation swirled that eithern Dipoto or longtime manager Mike Scioscia would be dismissed by season’s end.
Dipoto and Scioscia both stayed on, and with 23 games left in the 2014 campaign, the Angels have the best record in baseball.
Dipoto will retain his two assistant GMs – Matt Klentak, who specializes in contract logistics, and Scott Servais, in charge of scouting and player development – and will sort out the rest of the front office moving forward.
Outfielder J.B. Shuck, a big contributor to the Angels last season, was claimed off waivers by the Indians on Friday. In exchange, the Angels received cash considerations.
Shuck was designated for assignment on Tuesday, along with hard-throwing reliever Michael Kohn, because the Angels needed to clear space on the 40-man roster for a couple of September call-ups (catcher John Buck and infielder Shawn O’Malley).
Shuck, a scrappy left-handed hitter who primarily plays left field, was signed to a Minor League contract two offseasons ago and wound up leading American League rookies in plate appearances in 2013, while batting .293 with 20 doubles, 39 RBIs and eight steals.
The 27-year-old lost his job as the backup outfielder to Collin Cowgill in Spring Training and wound up appearing in only 22 Major League games this year, batting .167. With Triple-A Salt Lake, Shuck batted .320/.382/.446, with five homers, 57 RBIs and nine steals.
Rasmus, 26, threw three scoreless innings against the A’s last Saturday, a night that saw the Angels utilize eight relievers to toss a nine-inning shutout. Scioscia is hopefully that Rasmus can complete four innings, but probably won’t run his pitch count up much higher than the 49 he threw against Oakland.
“If he can get into the fourth, great,” Scioscia said. “If he can get into the fifth, better yet. We’ll just see how he can hold up in his start.”
Rasmus has a 2.48 ERA in 25 appearances this season, with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a walk rate of 2.7 and a 1.10 WHIP in 40 innings. The Angels currently have a 12-man bullpen (including Rasmus), and can get plenty of length out of Wade LeBlanc and Michael Roth if needed.
Richards’ spot will come up at least four more times this season.
“It’s certainly a match-up game,” Scioscia said. “When we get to a certain point in the game, we’ll probably have a couple lefties we can look at and we’ll certainly have some guys in the right side who are throwing the ball well. So I think it’s where you get in the game and where the situation is and how you move forward with it. Hopefully Cory will get us on the right foot like he did in Oakland.”
Some other notes from Thursday …
- David Freese was back in the lineup, after sitting Tuesday and going 0-for-3 on Wednesday, making him hitless in his last 20 at-bats. If Freese doesn’t pick it up, he could continue to lose playing time to Gordon Beckham. “There’s still that confidence in David Freese,” Scioscia said. “This guy’s an RBI machine when he gets going, and he’s a good hitter. Better hitter than I think he’s shown on a consistent basis this year.”
- Joe Thatcher threw a simulated game in the indoor batting cage of Target Field on Thursday, throwing about 20 pitches against hitters. His ankle “felt fine,” but he also realizes that there will be some pain tolerance involved the rest of the year. Thatcher will take some PFP on Friday, then hopes to venture out on a rehab assignment next week (the Angels’ Class A and Double-A affiliates are in the playoffs).
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Josh Hamilton, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
David Freese, 3B
Efren Navarro, 1B
Hank Conger, C
SP: LH Hector Santiago (4-7, 3.28 ERA)
Danny Santana, CF
Brian Dozier, 2B
Joe Mauer, 1B
Kennys Vargas, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Aaron Hicks, RF
Jordan Schafer, LF
SP: RH Kyle Gibson (11-10, 4.23 ERA)
The Angels’ impressive four-game sweep of the A’s put them 30 games above .500, five games up in the American League West and 3 1/2 up (on the Orioles) for the best record in baseball. They’ll start September with five more wins than they had all of last year and a realistic chance of capturing the franchise record in wins. They’d have to play .692 ball over the season’s final month; they’ve played .610 ball through the season’s first five months.
Here’s a look at how the Angels have to fare in September for certain milestones.
90 wins: 7-19
95 wins: 12-14
100 wins: 17-9
101 wins (club record): 18-8
This is the ninth time the Angels have held sole possession of first place in the AL West to start September. On five of the previous eight occasions, they went on to win the division. They blew 2 1/2-game leads in 1985 and ’98, and epically blew a 7 1/2-game lead with one month left in ’95.
So Angels manager Mike Scioscia has good reason to not look ahead.
“I know a lot of people are counting down, under 30 games — not us,” he said. “We know we have a long way to go. You want to ask me [about the standings] in about three weeks, we’ll sit down and talk. Right now, we are still in the heart of the pennant race. We need to chew this off one inning, one pitch, one game at a time.”
The Angels are off on Monday, then start a bizarre 10-game, four-city road trip through Houston (two games), Minnesota (four games), Cleveland (one game) and Arlington (three games). The Angels’ bullpen will continue to do some heavy lifting in September.
Some additional tidbits from Sunday …
- Angels pitchers had a streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings snapped in the eighth inning. It was tied for the longest in team history. … Sunday marked the fourth four-game sweep by the Angels this season, the most in their history. … Nineteen wins in August matched a franchise best (also done in 1986 and 2004). … This is the Angels’ largest division lead and their most games above .500 since the end of the 2009 season (10 games up, 32 games over). … At 83-53, the Angels have matched the best pace in club history after 136 games.
- Mike Trout hit his 31st homer on Sunday and drove in three runs, giving him 97 on the year. All of those home runs and all but two of those RBIs have come from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Among No. 2 hitters throughout history, the 23-year-old center fielder heads into September tied for ninth in homers (Eddie Mathews leads with 46 in 1959) and 10th in RBIs (Mathews and Alex Rodriguez in 1998 each had 114).
- Matt Shoemaker is the first rookie with 14-plus wins and 115-plus strikeouts before September since CC Sabathia in 2001. He’s been a great story.
- Chris Iannetta now leads the Angels in on-base percentage at .380 — six points higher than Trout.
- Erick Aybar‘s hitting streak is now at a career-high 16 games. The veteran shortstop is batting .458 (27-for-59) during that span.
That’s the bullpen’s catch phrase these days. It’s what Jason Grilli said this morning, in the wake of the 2-0 victory that was made possible by eight Angels pitchers taking the mound in nine innings: “All hands on deck.”
Prior to the game, the Angels surprisingly called up a position player (Grant Green) and sent down a pitcher (Cory Rasmus). Angels manager Mike Scioscia said they’re fine on the pitching side for Sunday’s series finale, given the fact that there’s an off day on Monday. Rasmus was sent down only as a formality, since he can be called up when rosters expand by Tuesday (they expand Monday, but the Angels’ next game is Tuesday).
Sunday is the last day to acquire players from outside the organization that would be eligible for the playoffs, and Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t planning on acquiring a starter. They’ll try to “cobble” it together, Dipoto said. And they’ll sort of do that on Sunday. Closer Huston Street (coming off appearing in four straight days) and setup man Joe Smith (three straight) are likely not available.
Here’s a look at who is …
LH Hector Santiago: Santiago said he put his spikes on last night, but never walked out to the bullpen. He will on Sunday. Santiago last started on Wednesday, and he’ll be backed up to start on Thursday, so he can give Scioscia an inning or two out of the bullpen if needed.
LH Michael Roth: Roth’s turn to start in Double-A was Saturday, and he only faced four batters (one an intentional walk) that day in the Majors. He can give Scisocia lots of length if the game gets out of hand or goes extras.
RH Yoslan Herrera: Herrera faced only one batter, and got two crucial outs, on Saturday. And he took the mound on three days’ rest. He can give Scioscia multiple innings, as well.
RH Jason Grilli: Grilli has only pitched twice in the last six days, including Saturday. He could be a candidate to close, unless it’s …
RH Kevin Jepsen: Jepsen would be appearing in his fourth game in five days if he pitches on Sunday, but I bet Scioscia doesn’t hesitate to go to him if he needs him.
RH Mike Morin: The 23-year-old right-hander is actually pretty fresh. He’s had two days off, which is an eternity in this bullpen. He’s someone who can give Scioscia two innings if needed.
RH Fernando Salas: Salas is basically on the same schedule as Jepsen, having appeared in two of his last three games. The fact he only threw one 11-pitch inning on Saturday, when he could’ve easily come out for a second, makes him available for the series finale.
If the Angels have a lead after six, and Scioscia goes to the bullpen to relieve Matt Shoemaker, my guess is Morin, Grilli, Jepsen get the last three innings, respectively.