The latest buzz concerning Shohei Ohtani started early Tuesday.
Way early, like four hours before the game early.
That’s when manager Mike Scioscia’s posted lineup in the Angels’ clubhouse became public knowledge, with certain portions of the public, at least, ecstatic about the possibilities of Mike Trout leading off and Ohtani batting second.
No one said anything about what could potentially happen later to Jose Alvarez, the reliever who was so reliable for so long this season — until the arrival of the latest eighth inning.
Alvarez entered the game having given up three runs in 21 appearances and then gave up three runs while getting only one out as the Angels lost to the Houston Astros 5-3.
“Just a bad game,” Alvarez said. “I’ll take the loss. We’ll take the loss. I feel bad about it. But tomorrow’s another day.”
Alvarez hadn’t pitched since Thursday, Scioscia explaining that the left-hander simply was fatigued by his extensive early-season use.
Against the Astros, he failed to protect a 3-1 lead against a lineup known to be tough to solve.
“Those guys did a good job in the batter’s box,” Scioscia said. “Jose didn’t make that many pitches where you’d go, ‘Wow, that was really off.’”
Alvarez retired George Springer on a fly ball before walking Alex Bregman. That loaded the bases for Jose Altuve, the reigning American League MVP.
After getting ahead 0-2, Alvarez was unable to extinguish Houston’s 5-foot-6 spark, Altuve sending a double down the left-field line on Alvarez’s 24th pitch.
“He hit a good pitch,” Alvarez said. “If it’s another hitter, maybe he’d miss it or roll over it. But he’s a good hitter.”
That gave the Astros the lead and spoiled the start of Jaime Barria, the rookie who opened the season in triple A but has produced four solid starts in five tries with the Angels.
This time he outpitched Gerrit Cole, who came in leading the AL in strikeouts and was second in ERA.
Barria allowed the 2017 World Series champions one run on four hits while striking out seven in seven innings.
“You have to kind of take a step back and say you’re looking at a kid who’s 21 going out there and making in-game adjustments,” Scioscia said. “I think that’s what drew a lot of guys in our organization to Jaime.”
The manager’s lineup changes were necessitated by Zack Cozart getting the day off to rest.
Scioscia decided to promote Trout one spot in the order and put Ohtani right behind him, the Angels’ two most dynamic threats posing a potentially lethal 1-2 punch.
“We’re going to evaluate things on a daily basis,” Scioscia explained, “and see what makes the most sense.”
Ohtani began the season in the No. 8 spot, mostly has hit fifth but also twice has batted cleanup.
Everything about the Angels’ history-making rookie is news, Ohtani’s tidy habit of spitting sunflower seeds into a cup instead of onto the dugout floor generating a commotion this week on social media.
The excitement this time, however, went unfulfilled. Trout and Ohtani went a combined one for six with two walks and three strikeouts. The hit was a fifth-inning single by Ohtani, right after Trout walked.
Even there, the power pairing didn’t quite work out. Trout was nailed by Reddick, Houston’s right fielder, trying to advance to third.
The Angels’ offense instead came from Justin Upton (hitting third) and Rene Rivera (ninth). Those two were the ones who homered off Cole, putting the Angels in a position to beat the Astros … until that eighth inning showed up, and Altuve jumped on Alvarez.