Depleted by a franchise-record worth of injuries, the Angels turned Saturday to a starting pitcher who hadn’t been in the big leagues in nearly two years.
John Lamb, it turns out, was just fine.
Instead, it was a reliever who has been with the team all season and has emerged as a versatile and valuable option whose performance proved most costly.
Noe Ramirez’s inability to find the strike zone led to an errant sixth inning that resulted in the Angels’ 6-4 loss to Oakland.
“Noe’s really been throwing the ball well for us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He just didn’t have his release point this afternoon.”
Ramirez had hit one batter in 51 appearances, dating to April 23, 2016, when he was with Boston.
Then he hit two Saturday, including Chad Pinder with the first pitch he threw. Ramirez also walked two batters, including one with the bases loaded, and gave up a two-run single as a 3-2 lead for the Angels became a 5-3 deficit.
“You put four guys on base without those guys having to swing the bat,” Scioscia said. “He made some good pitches in between. But a lot of the damage was done by getting into bad counts.”
Of the 27 pitches Ramirez threw, 13 weren’t strikes, Oakland’s three-run rally against the right-hander including only the one hit.
Like the Angels in general, their bullpen has been rocked by injury, too, losing Keynan Middleton, Blake Wood and Jim Johnson.
Justin Anderson threw a 28-pitch ninth inning Friday to secure a victory, Scioscia’s level of comfort with this current group such that he felt compelled to use one of his best relievers in a game where the score was 8-3.
As constructed, there are four pitchers who wouldn’t be in the bullpen today had this team not had so many injuries.
Still, with Ramirez in position to potentially give the Angels another effort beyond one inning, something he has done 14 times this season, Scioscia said he liked the possibilities.
“We had it lined up,” he said. “We had enough pitching with what we have. Unfortunately, in that sixth inning, it went the wrong way.”
As it was, the Angels stretched Lamb as long as he could go, the left-hander finishing with 88 pitches, more than he threw in any of his 13 starts at triple-A Salt Lake.
He also matched his season high by going five innings. When Lamb returned to start the sixth inning Saturday, he lasted only four more pitches, Marcus Semien hitting a home run to cut the Angels lead to 3-2.
“Right before I went out, I told [pitching coach Charles] Nagy that I was feeling fresh,” Lamb said, “feeling as good as I’ve felt all game, all year.”
He hadn’t appeared in the big leagues since July 16, 2016, when, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, he retired only six of the 16 Milwaukee Brewers batters he faced.
This is a guy who went into the game Saturday with a 2-12 record and 6.17 earned-run average for his career. Lamb’s time between major league pitches included an extended battle with back problems and a 50-game suspension for drug abuse.
So, even in defeat, his return represented something of a triumph.
“I had a great time,” said Lamb, 27, who played at Laguna Hills High. “It’s unfortunate when we lose the ballgame. But, selfishly, it was definitely fun to be back out on a big league field.”
Throughout most of this season, Lamb has been limited to fewer than 70 pitches. His previous 2018 high was 82, on June 9 in his last start for Salt Lake.
He said he was told early on that the Angels’ work schedule for him would generally keep him between 60-75 pitches per outing.
“I was just told that there’s a plan in place,” Lamb said. “I tried not to look too deep into that. I didn’t really have a complete understanding other than there was a plan.”
There was a plan, just like there was a plan for the sixth inning Saturday. But, sometimes, plans just don’t work out.