Ricky Nolasco does not expect to start again this season, although his manager, Mike Scioscia, was unwilling to say as much Tuesday night.
If this was the end of Nolasco's first stint as an Angel, it went better than expected. Since the Aug. 1 trade in which Minnesota sent him to Anaheim, Nolasco has logged a 3.21 earned-run average in 73 innings, including eight superb innings Tuesday night at Angel Stadium in his team's 8-1 victory over Oakland. The only run against him was unearned.
The Angels scored seven runs in the fourth inning, a fierce rally featuring a grand slam from rookie Jefry Marte, the man without a position but with plenty of power. Marte said his mother was in attendance at one of his games for the first time in the United States.
"Let me tell you," Scioscia said, "that guy has some thunder in his bat."
As an Angel, Nolasco has struck out 51 and issued 15 walks. Owning a 5.13 ERA at the time of the trade, he struggled at first but rebounded to record a strong September. Meanwhile, the man he was traded for, Hector Santiago, has authored a 6.22 ERA with a 31-19 strikeout-walk ratio for the Twins.
"I don't know if he was quite as crisp with his command, but he definitely had his breaking ball there, both of them," Scioscia said of Nolasco. "He pitched well. He pitched through some stuff. When he was really on, for a couple starts there, you saw the great fastball command. He was not quite as crisp tonight, but that was a strong eight innings."
Although Scioscia has said several times the 33-year-old right-hander is deploying his breaking balls differently as an Angel, Nolasco believes he is throwing both his curveball and slider at the same rate as before — sometimes often, sometimes not so much. The evidence supports that assertion.
Rather, he says, increasing the usage of his sinker is responsible for the improvement. Pitching coach Charles Nagy pitched that to him as soon as he arrived, Nolasco said.
"I didn't use it much before, but they gave me confidence in throwing it and getting those quick outs," Nolasco said. "Getting those ground balls is huge. I'm getting quick outs, and instead of those balls being put in play, they are straight into the ground."
Scioscia has declined to answer questions about next season throughout the second half of this one, even this month, as next season becomes close enough that players themselves are discussing it. But, the manager allowed Tuesday night, the quest for future success has to be in sight at all times, and Nolasco's performance bodes well for his final year under contract in 2017.
"You need to keep getting better, and Ricky's doing that," Scioscia said. "It's really encouraging."
Nolasco awoke Sunday morning to a text containing a link. He clicked it, where he learned to his disbelief that his friend and former teammate, Jose Fernandez, had died in a boating accident off the coast of Miami.
"You have to sit down for a few hours, just to fathom that this really happened," Nolasco said. "These last few days have been some pretty somber days. You can't stop thinking about it. You don't want to believe it. It's been tough. It's going to be tough."
Nolasco said he cannot yet bear to watch any video from the two uplifting games the Marlins have played since Fernandez's death.
"It's heartbreaking right now," he said. "Not just for his friends and teammates, but to think about the pain his mom and grandma feel, that's been the most difficult part."
Pujols' foot hurting
Albert Pujols sat out of Tuesday's game. The plantar fasciitis in his right foot has flared up, so much so that the Angels are considering keeping him out of their remaining four games this season.
"It's gotten to a point now where we don't want to put him at risk," Scioscia said. "We'll hold off today and see how things go."
Pujols has played 152 games this season, a fact his manager praised Tuesday, with offensive statistics similar to his first four seasons as an Angel.
In further injury news, Yunel Escobar exited Tuesday's game in the fourth inning because of right shoulder soreness, which began on a swing. Scioscia said he'd be treated as day-to-day.
The Angels announced attendance at 27,531, by far their season low. Earlier this month, they had established a low of 29,932. ...Left-hander Tyler Skaggs threw a lengthy bullpen session Tuesday and pronounced himself ready to start and throw four or five innings Saturday or Sunday. "Today was the best 'pen I've thrown in a long time," Skaggs said. The Angels will wait to see how he feels Wednesday. . . . Third baseman Kaleb Cowart said he is leaning toward playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Scioscia has said the club hopes he will play somewhere. The 24-year-old has not played regularly in recent weeks. . . . Catcher Geovany Soto (right knee inflammation) still could be activated before Sunday, the Angels maintain. Soto will be a free agent at season's end and has not played in more than a month.