A bat lay discarded on the grass surrounding the home plate circle at Oakland Coliseum, flung away in outsized celebration by an Athletics batter who could boast about one thing the Angels could not on Saturday night: Center fielder Mark Canha had hit his first home run of the season. The Angels were still waiting for someone in their lineup to hit a ball over the outfield fence for the first time this year.
In fact, the Angels could not brag about much of anything in a 4-2 loss. They failed to score against an Athletics starter for the third game in a row and they weren’t able to do much damage against an Oakland bullpen that imploded Friday night either.
Some of their ineffectiveness boiled down to one borderline call: Against Blake Treinen, a closer who had the best reliever’s earned-run average in baseball last year, Angels first baseman Justin Bour did not walk on a 3-and-2 pitch that seemed to register just outside the zone. Bour was rung up looking, sent back to the dugout on a 94-mph cutter that made even Andrelton Simmons crouch in frustration at third base.
“Really I have no one to blame but myself,” said Bour, who hasn’t logged a hit in 10 at-bats but has drawn three walks in three games. “I didn’t get it done. You can argue balls and strikes and all that stuff. Really at the end of the day it’s a matter of getting it done, and I haven’t and didn’t there. Was it in the zone? No, but I still didn’t get the job done.”
On the whole, neither did the rest of the lineup.
Manager Brad Ausmus had juggled the Angels batting order to account for the left-hander the Athletics started. The shuffling yielded a leadoff walk for Zack Cozart in the first inning and another in the second for Bour, who was dropped to fifth in the lineup. Both were stranded by Brett Anderson. Peter Bourjos struck out with men on the corners for the second out of the second inning, then David Fletcher flied out to center field to end the threat.
The Angels’ scheme went for naught as Anderson pitched six scoreless, scattered three hits, issued two walks and struck out four batters. He was relieved by J.B. Wendelken, who pitched a perfect seventh.
Wendelken wasn’t flawless when he emerged for the eighth. After Fletcher reached first base on an error by second baseman Jurickson Profar, who airmailed a throw on a routine play, the Angels gathered momentum. Wendelken hung a changeup and Cozart smashed it to deep left field for a double that narrowly missed leaving the ballpark. Mike Trout then lofted a fly ball to deep right field, allowing Fletcher to score on the sacrifice. Simmons knocked a run-scoring single to cut the A’s advantage to 4-2.
Then Treinen put out the fire. He gave up a hit, struck out Bour and induced a popup from Jonathan Lucroy to end the Angels’ threat. He then pitched a perfect ninth to get the save for the A’s.
“It would've been nice to get the calls (in Bour’s at-bat),” Ausmus said. “But calls go both ways. I thought they were a little off but that's part of the game.”
Angels starter Felix Pena, a revelation for the Angels eight months ago, struggled at the end of his outing. He had retired the first eight A’s batters before Josh Phegley looped a weak fly ball into center field for a two-out hit in the third inning. Pena promptly began to lose the thread.
First, he didn’t receive strike calls on a pair of high fastballs that according to Pitch f/X sailed into the top edge of the zone. Robbie Grossman sent the next pitch, a 3-and-1 fastball, to right field for a hit. Then Pena hit Matt Chapman in the front shoulder to load the bases. After a mound visit from pitching coach Doug White, Pena served Stephen Piscotty a 90-mph fastball on the outer edge of the plate that Piscotty shot up the middle for a two-run single.
Pena was removed from the game with two outs in the fourth inning, after giving up a two-run home run to Canha, who tossed his bat as Pena watched the fastball he’d thrown sail 415 feet to left field.
“He seemed to kind of lose command of his off-speed pitches,” Ausmus said. “The fastball was fine but it seemed like the breaking ball and changeup, especially the breaking ball, he had trouble with command. … He was behind in the counts, walked a few guys and just seemed to kind of lose feel for his pitches.”
The Angels could feel optimistic about this: Relievers Noe Ramirez threw two scoreless innings, Justin Anderson gave up one hit over 1 1/3 innings and Luis Garcia pitched a perfect eighth inning. The Angels bullpen hasn’t given up a run in 9 1/3 innings across three games.
And there was one positive to take away from the Angels’ hitting woes, too: The Angels have punched out so seldom in the early days of the season that their 13 strikeouts ranked among the fewest in baseball.
That development was something Ausmus pointed to after each of the first two games. He was encouraged by the Angels’ approach at the plate, not frustrated by their inability to cash in with runners in scoring position, like when Bour and Trout were left 90 feet from home in separate innings Saturday night.
“It’s so early,” Bour said. “That’s really all you can say. We know what we’re capable of, but we haven’t been getting it done, myself included.”