Jhoulys Chacin's first start as an Angel was a source of wonder. Acquired from Atlanta for effectively nothing, he shut down the unsuspecting Seattle Mariners for seven innings. He walked no one and he elicited feeble grounder after grounder.
Chacin's failed Monday start won't be his last as an Angel, but it augured an imminent end to his stint in their starting rotation. The Houston Astros pummeled him as long as he was on the mound, just into the third inning. He walked five men, and he served up brisk ground ball after brisk ground ball.
"I couldn't throw the ball over the plate," he said.
He faced 17 Astros and retired six of them. Six runs scored on his watch. Angels relievers pitched far better, yielding just four runs in the six remaining innings, but the decisive damage had already been done. The Angels suffered a languid loss, 10-7, at Minute Maid Park, with fewer fans left at game's end than perhaps any other game they've played this season.
Chacin walked the first man he faced and hit the second. Next, he fired a wild pitch, putting two men in scoring position without an out. He got Jose Altuve to ground out sharply to short — too sharply to bring in a run. He got Carlos Correa to ground out, not sharp enough to prevent the game's first run from scoring. Colby Rasmus singled through to right field, scoring another, and Carlos Gomez singled through to left, scoring the last of the inning.
He walked two more in the second, but escaped unscathed.
The third inning was another disaster. Chacin walked Correa. Rasmus bunted and reached first base. Gomez singled into right, and Correa scampered home when Kole Calhoun muffed the pickup. Luis Valbuena followed with a double that Calhoun reached for, touched, and could not corral.
Pitching coach Charles Nagy visited the mound; the Angels bullpen stirred. Chacin faced one more batter, Astros catcher Evan Gattis. He threw him two balls and then a get-me-over fastball which Gattis tapped up the middle, a foot beyond shortstop Andrelton Simmons' glove.
Mike Morin entered the game and quickly recorded a strikeout and double play. He yielded a monstrous home run in the fourth and then gave way to left-hander Jose Alvarez for a frame.
Down five runs entering the bottom of the sixth, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia handed the ball to A.J. Achter and asked him to soak up the remnants of Chacin's collapse. Achter needed 51 pitches to finish the three remaining innings, but he finished them.
Chacin watched it all from the bench. Three hours after he exited the game, he was mining his delivery for the source of the problem. He believed he brought his left side forward too soon, continually pulling his body out of balance.
"After the first inning, I was trying to get backdoor strikes. But I just couldn't throw the ball over the plate. It's unacceptable," Chacin said.
"I'm trying to figure things out. I'm just trying to get back to the way I used to be."
The 28-year-old Venezuelan right-hander will make at least one more start. Nothing further is guaranteed. At some point, the team will welcome back Nick Tropeano.
The Angels scored their first runs of the night in the sixth inning. Calhoun walked, and Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron smashed back-to-back doubles.
They notched one more in the eighth, on a Johnny Giavotella solo shot, and four in the ninth, on two singles, and an error, and a Gregorio Petit first-pitch grand slam.
That brought up the top of the Angels order, but by then Calhoun and Mike Trout had exited the game, their time better spent in wait.