It had been 15 months since Matt Shoemaker last pitched at Angel Stadium, in a game in which the home team used Yunel Escobar as its cleanup batter.
It had been awhile indeed for Shoemaker, with two forearm surgeries in the interim, setting free a compressed nerve and repairing a torn tendon.
For an Angels team desperate for starting pitchers that can stay off the disabled list, the report card Friday appeared more discouraging than encouraging.
The box score was fine. Shoemaker took the defeat in the Angels’ 5-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners, but he struck out eight, walked none and endured two errors in his 42/3 innings.
No, the concern became evident in the fifth inning, when an athletic trainer rushed to see Shoemaker. His first two fastballs that inning registered 88 and 89 mph. His fastballs in the first two innings ranged from 92 to 94 mph, in the next two innings from 90 to 93 mph.
Shoemaker had averaged 91.6 mph on his fastball this season, according to Fangraphs.
He remained in the game and pitched to three more batters.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the velocity decline might have been a mechanical issue but did not indicate an injury.
“That’s a relief,” Scioscia said.
Shoemaker suspected he might have tired during a long fourth inning but said he had absolutely no concern about injury and no tests planned.
“Everything’s all good,” he said.
A sharp drop in velocity during a game can indicate an injury. In his last game, Shohei Ohtani lost about 5 mph on his fastball from one inning to the next. The Angels removed him, in what turned out to be his last start before doctors recommended Tommy John surgery.
There has been no shortage of independent orthopedists willing to predict Ohtani can return to the Angels’ lineup next season.
Ohtani will not be able to pitch until the 2020 season, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but orthopedists have noted that position players can return from the procedure in about six months, which could allow him to have the procedure done at the end of the season and reclaim his place in the lineup on opening day.
However, the Angels are unlikely to let Ohtani hit if doing so might delay his pitching rehabilitation. Billy Eppler, the Angels’ general manager, said there is no way to know if Ohtani can return to hitting as soon as infielders and outfielders can.
“Their arm doesn’t throw 100 mph,” Eppler said. “There’s not going to be a precedent. It’s a completely unique case.”
Last coach standing
When Scioscia assembled his first coaching staff, he invited Alfredo Griffin to join. Now, as Scioscia is expected to retire after 19 years as the Angels’ manager, Griffin is the one coach who has served on each of his coaching staffs.
Griffin played a huge role in the Angels’ lone World Series championship. In 2001, as the Angels got off to a slow start and wondered whether to replace Benji Gil at shortstop, Griffin was the man who identified the solution, in an unimposing utility infielder the Angels had claimed on waivers.
“That was a big controversy in my career, the worst I ever had in 19 years as a coach with the Angels,” Griffin said Friday. “Nobody knew who David Eckstein was.”
Scioscia had asked Griffin for suggestions on whom the Angels could get to replace Gil.
“We have the player we need in house,” Griffin told Scioscia.
“Who?” Scioscia said.
“David Eckstein,” Griffin said.
“Are you serious?” Scioscia said.
Eckstein finished fourth in American League rookie of the year voting that year, then emerged as a catalyst on the Angels’ 2002 championship team.
He batted .293 in 2002, scored 107 runs, stole 21 bases, led the league in sacrifice bunts and times hit by pitch, and ranked among the top 10 in singles, triples, sacrifice flies, hardest to strike out, and wins above replacement (WAR) among position players.
“It turned out pretty good,” Griffin said.
Griffin, 60, said he would be delighted to remain on the Angels’ coaching staff when Scioscia leaves, if invited by Eppler and whoever the new manager might be.
“I could stay here forever,” Griffin said.