Their use of an “opener,” in which the Angels started the game with a reliever and replaced him with a starter, was a rousing success on Sunday.
Hansel Robles threw a clean first inning, Jaime Barria followed with five one-run, four-hit innings, and the Angels snapped a six-game losing streak with an 8-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners before a crowd of 34,155 in Angel Stadium.
It’s the use of their closer that could be a cause for concern. An 8-1 advantage in the ninth inning was trimmed to 8-4 when Tom Murphy hit a two-run homer and Dee Gordon hit a solo shot off Angels reliever Noe Ramirez.
When Ramirez walked Mallex Smith with two outs, Angels manager Brad Ausmus summoned closer Cody Allen, who gave up the winning runs in the ninth inning to the Mariners on Thursday and Friday night.
Allen struggled to find the strike zone against Mitch Haniger, bouncing one breaking ball far in front of the plate, and he grooved a full-count fastball that Haniger drove for a two-run homer to left-center that pulled Seattle to within 8-6.
Allen then walked Domingo Santana, bringing the tying run to the plate in an inning that began with a seven-run Angels lead. Ausmus pulled Allen in favor of Luis Garcia, who got Edwin Encarnacion to pop out to first, ending the game.
“That would not have been good for the team,” Ausmus said, “if we did not hold onto that lead.”
There were plenty of bright spots for the Angels on Sunday. Infielder Tommy La Stella smacked solo home runs in the fourth and eighth innings, giving him six homers on the season — that’s already a careerhigh — and tying Mike Trout for the team lead.
La Stella played sporadically over the past four years as a Chicago Cubs utility player, never getting more than 169 at-bats in a season. With regular playing time in Anaheim — he’s started 17 of 22 games — La Stella has found better timing and rhythm. His six homers have come in 30 at-bats over his last 11 games.
“It’s cool,” said La Stella, who is on a 44-homer pace. “Obviously, I didn’t expect this, but you’d like to think that putting in the time in the cage and the getting the reps is eventually going to pay off. For me, it’s kind of swinging a little easier. I don’t have to put such an aggressive swing on it. Just take the barrel to the ball.”
Catcher Kevan Smith hit a two-run homer in the second, giving the Angels their first lead in the four-game series, Brian Goodwin hit a solo shot in the sixth, Andrelton Simmons (seventh inning) and Kole Calhoun (eighth) had RBI doubles, and Justin Bour had an RBI single in the seventh.
The Angels backed Barria with two superb defensive plays. With runners on second and third and one out in the second, Gordon flied to medium right. Ryon Healy held at third, but Murphy strayed too far off the bag at second.
Bour, the Angels first baseman, cut off Calhoun’s throw from the outfield and threw to second to nail Murphy to end the inning.
Trout ran into the gap in right-center to retrieve Santana’s hit in the sixth, spun and fired a one-hop throw to Simmons, who applied a tag on Santana.
“I felt more relaxed,” Barria, speaking through an interpreter, said of the second-inning play. “It gave me a little more confidence to get out of that inning with a zero.”
Ty Buttrey got himself into — and out of — a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the seventh, and Ramirez struck out two in a scoreless eighth before disaster nearly struck in the ninth.
Allen has given up runs in his last four appearances, his ERA swelling to 6.14 in nine games. Signed to a one-year, $9-million deal, Allen, 30, is trying to rebound from a career-worst season in which he went 4-6 with a 4.70 ERA, converted 27 of 32 save opportunities and gave up 11 homers for Cleveland.
“Today was just the strike zone, trying to get balls back into the strike zone,” Ausmus said. “Just repeating the release point is all it is. He’ll get back to that.”
The Angels have other closing options in Buttrey and Robles, but Allen’s job does not appear in jeopardy.