No matter how well Drew Rucinski pitched Tuesday night, he was not going to remain in the Angels rotation for long, not with Garrett Richards on the verge of returning from left-knee surgery.
But Rucinski was so shaky in his first major league start, an 8-2 loss to the Texas Rangers in Globe Life Park, that he wasn't merely demoted to the bullpen afterward.
The right-hander was optioned to triple-A Salt Lake after getting rocked for four runs and six hits in 22/3 innings, walking four and striking out none in a 77-pitch outing was probably worse than the line score indicated.
Yes, Rucinski could have avoided a three-run second had center fielder Mike Trout and left fielder Matt Joyce not miscommunicated on a catchable Robinson Chirinos drive that fell for a two-run double. Rucinski needed 40 pitches to complete the inning.
But Rucinski fell behind in counts to nine of 16 batters, threw two wild pitches and gave up several hard-hit outs. And right fielder Collin Cowgill bailed him out in the third by throwing out Shin-Soo Choo at second when Choo tried to stretch a single into a double.
"He pitched himself into a lot of trouble tonight," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think he brought his best game to the mound. He never got on track."
Rucinski, 20 months removed from independent-league ball, won a roster spot with a solid spring in which he went 2-1 with a 2.60 earned-run average, attacked hitters and threw strikes. That Rucinski failed to appear Tuesday night.
"I never got into that groove," Rucinski said. "I fell behind in counts and was kind of all over the place with my fastball."
Much like many of his wayward pitches, a pivotal play in the second did not go Rucinski's way. With the Angels trailing, 1-0, Rucinski was one strike away from escaping a two-on, two-out jam when Chirinos capped an eight-pitch at-bat by driving a ball to deep left-center.
Trout raced to the gap and appeared to have a bead on the ball, and Joyce charged hard from left. Both players pulled up slightly at the last second, and the ball nicked off Trout's glove and fell for a two-run double.
"I thought I was going to catch it," Trout said. "I had a bead on it. I called it, and I think he called it. I thought we were going to run into each other, so I kind of backed up a little bit. It's just one of those things, where I'm getting adjusted to him in left field. It's a big play in the game, obviously. But we'll straighten it out."
Injuries limited the amount of time Joyce, who was acquired from Tampa Bay last winter, spent in left field this spring, and he and Trout are still learning each other's range and tendencies. The two nearly collided on Seth Smith's double to the gap in the April 6 season opener in Seattle.
"We've had a couple of in-between plays, where it's no-man's land," Joyce said. "Two guys are going as hard as they can. I thought I could get there. I called it. Trout came over, he has priority, and he called it. I tried to get out of the way, and I'm sure he caught me out of the corner of his eye."