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Smallest crowd of season sees Angels lose 8-1 to Mariners

Smallest crowd of season sees Angels lose 8-1 to Mariners
Angels relief pitcher Deolis Guerra, left, reacts after being called for a balk as Mariners outfielder Norichika Aoki stands on first during the seventh inning. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Angels welcomed their smallest crowd of 2016 into their ballpark Monday night.

Reasons abounded. The team is 16 games under .500 and amid a 10-game homestand. School is back in session across Orange County. The Los Angeles Rams competed with fans' attention for the first time since Oct. 4, 1964.

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And so, at first pitch, the outer sections down either line were entirely vacant, like a motel along a Minnesota highway in the dead of winter. Come the ninth inning, no more than a few thousand fans observed the conclusion of the Angels' 8-1 defeat to Seattle.

Incidentally, the Angels' starting pitcher, Ricky Nolasco, signed with Minnesota three winters ago, and then cited the cold there as one reason his time with the Twins did not unfold as envisioned. In an unusual trade in which neither team was a conventional buyer, Minnesota dealt him to the Angels alongside promising prospect Alex Meyer on Aug. 1, acquiring Hector Santiago and a triple-A reliever in return.

Thirty-four this December, Nolasco has had dominant stretches over his lengthy career, which surpassed 10 years of service time in May. He once struck out nine consecutive men in a game, as a Florida Marlin. When the Dodgers acquired him in July 2013, he logged a 2.07 earned-run average over his first dozen starts, helping vault them into the playoffs.

But he has settled into a career as an innings-eater, albeit one who will always entice with the possibility for more. Few major leaguers have consistently posted as large a gap between their fielding-independent-pitching projections and actual statistics. Because he does not issue many walks, hits few batters, limits homers and records a respectable amount of strikeouts, advanced metrics have always thought him better than the traditional box score.

For one particularly confounding four-year stretch, from 2009-2012, Nolasco's FIP estimated his ERA should be 3.65. His actual ERA was 4.68.

Through his first seven starts with the Angels, he did not have that problem. His FIP and ERA sat one-hundredth of a point away from each other, 4.31 and 4.30.

He has had other issues. Including Monday, the Angels have won only once in his starts.

Chief among them: Opponents have notched a .721 OPS against Nolasco when facing him for the first or second time on a given night. The third time through, though, they've had an .862 OPS. The struggles exemplified by the eighth inning in his last start against Oakland, when he walked two men without an out, and Monday's seventh inning, when he let the first two men reach base.

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia pulled him both times. After the loss in Oakland, Scioscia said Nolasco lost his release point, perhaps because of "fatigue" and "decisiveness," he suggested Monday, emphasizing he would again entrust the right-hander in the same situation.

"We're trying to see just how stuff plays throughout the whole course of a game," Scioscia said. "I think he's made some adjustments that are going to help him, not only now, but next year."

The Angels said they sold 29,932 tickets for Monday's game, the lowest number they had announced since June 3, 2015.

Simmons scratched because of thumb injury

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons took grounders as normal Monday evening, before the Angels hosted the Mariners. Then, two hours before first pitch, the club scratched him from their starting lineup because of what was termed as a bruised right thumb. Cliff Pennington started at shortstop instead.

Simmons jammed the hand during a rundown in Sunday's victory. He said afterward it felt fine.

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Short hops

Right-hander Garrett Richards will soon stretch his throwing out to 150 feet, and plans to then throw off a mound, likely over the weekend. He is testing the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow the team believes was healed by a stem-cell injection. …Right-hander Cory Rasmus (core muscle surgery) will pitch twice more in the rookie-league playoffs for the Angels' Orem affiliate, and then be activated. …

Catcher Geovany Soto (right knee inflammation) is participating in hitting drills normally and could soon be activated. …

Meyer will again not exceed 80 pitches in his second start for the club, on Tuesday. He threw 68 pitches in his first outing. …

The Angels brought director of baseball development Mike Gallego and Triple-A Manager Keith Johnson in to assist with coaching Monday. Gallego spent the season based at the Angels' Arizona facility.

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Twitter: @pedromoura

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